PITTSBURGH — The Rangers have relied on goalie Igor Shesterkin all season long. Friday night, he even turned in an assist at a crucial moment of his 5-3 Game 6 victory over the Penguins.
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With the Rangers on a power play in the second period, Shesterkin skated without hesitation all the way to the bottom of the right faceoff circle to meet the Penguins’ clear of the puck, with the score tied 2-2.
Shesterkin launched the puck up the ice while the Penguins made a change. The puck hit Mika Zibanejad square on the tape of his stick. Zibanejad put the puck on net and Chris Kreider cleaned up the loose rebound to give the Rangers their first lead of the night en route to the victory that teed up a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I practice,” Shesterkin said, without the help of a translator, of his secondary assist on Kreider’s first of two goals on the night.
Shesterkin made 31 saves in his first win on the road in this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against Pittsburgh, where the crowd has relentlessly taunted the Rangers’ star goalie in all three games at PPG Paints Arena. The jeers began even before the national anthem on Friday night, and continued periodically throughout the game, as they have all series long.
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The 26-year-old, who is getting his first taste of real playoff hockey after one appearance in the 2020 bubble playoffs in front of an empty arena, admitted that it has been difficult to play on the road this postseason.
“It’s very difficult,” he said. “I try to go to my mind. I try to keep focus.”
Rangers director of goaltending Benoit Allaire gave him a tip, Shesterkin said, but he opted not to share it.
“When the game is over, you just try to forget about the game,” Shesterkin said. “Doesn’t matter if you win or lose. You need to win four in this series. I [was] pulled out twice, doesn’t matter. Coach believes in me. I would like to say thanks. I just try to find my game.”
The Rangers fell into a 2-0 hole for the second time in as many games. Asked what’s going through his mind in that moment, Shesterkin said, bluntly, that nothing changes for him.
“I know we need to go back to New York for Game 7,” he said. “And I just tried to focus on the puck all the time.”
Tyler Motte played for the first time since April 7, when the trade-deadline acquisition suffered what the Rangers described as a “significant” upper-body injury against, coincidentally, the Penguins. In the third period of an eventual 4-1 Rangers win that night, Pittsburgh winger Anthony Angello landed a high hit on Motte and knocked him out for the final 15 games of the regular season.
Angello, who played in four games for the Penguins this season, hasn’t played in this first-round Stanley Cup series.
Motte recorded one shot on goal and one hit over 9:32 of ice time in Game 6, which included 2:11 while the Rangers were shorthanded.
Defenseman Patrik Nemeth was a healthy scratch for the first time in this series.