PITTSBURGH — All the Rangers could do was tap goalie Igor Shesterkin’s pads as he slumped off the PPG Paints Arena ice to echoing taunts of his name after he gave up six goals to the Penguins before the second intermission of Game 4 on Monday night.
The team in front of him had just proven what so many had said about their unprecedented success throughout the regular season: The Rangers are not the club they’ve appeared to be without Shesterkin.
It was ugly. It was humiliating. It was an egregious 7-2 loss to Sidney Crosby and the Penguins that sent the Rangers back to New York licking their wounds and facing elimination in Game 5 on Wednesday. The Blueshirts are now charged with the almost impossible task of winning three straight to advance beyond Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Gerard Gallant unloaded the very word that the Rangers coach only uses when he knows his team needs a kick in the behind:
“Played soft,” he said. “We were soft all over the ice. That’s the biggest difference, we were soft all over the ice.”
Shesterkin was pulled for a second straight game after Pittsburgh exploded for five goals in the middle frame. The defensive breakdowns were aplenty. The Rangers were chasing everything and were outshot 41-24. There was no structure, no control or anything they could do to limit Crosby — who continued to hammer the Rangers with a three-point performance in the form of a goal and two assists — or any other player in a yellow-and-black jersey for that matter.
Throughout the regular season, the Vezina Trophy favorite had been stellar in his outings following losses, going 10-1-1 with a .931 save percentage, a 2.08 goals-against average and two shutouts. Shesterkin was not able to tap into that in Pittsburgh, where Penguins fans made it their life’s mission to haunt the Rangers’ star goalie.
In Games 1 and 2 at home, Shesterkin gave up six goals on 124 shots in 165:39. In Games 3 and 4 on the road, Shesterkin allowed 10 goals on 45 shots in 59:53.
Even when he was already out of the game and sitting on the Rangers bench, the Pittsburgh crowd continued to mock him by chanting, “We want Igor.”
“He’s just one of us,” Andrew Copp said of seeing a dejected Shesterkin, who was replaced by backup Alexandar Georgiev (10 saves). “We weren’t playing very good in front of him. It definitely wasn’t on him at all. It’s going to be up to every guy in the room to pull together and do what we can to win Game 5.”
The Rangers were projected to have a significant edge in goal over the Penguins, whose starter Tristan Jarry went down toward the end of the regular season with a fractured foot and hasn’t been able to play in this series. And when their backup Casey DeSmith exited in the second overtime of Game 1 and ultimately underwent core muscle surgery to prematurely end his postseason, the advantage should’ve grown more apparent.
Instead, the Rangers have allowed Pittsburgh’s third-string netminder Louis Domingue to get the better of them. Domingue has combined for 54 saves against the Rangers over the last two contests.
However, Gallant put this one on the whole team — and it was. It’s been obvious just how much of a major role Shesterkin has played in getting the Rangers to this point. It’s now up to the rest of the club to do its part.
“He’s probably really frustrated,” Gallant said. “I don’t know, there was probably four goals that were deflected tonight. It’s a team effort. He’ll be back in there and he’ll be ready to win the next game on Wednesday night. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him and it was a tough night for our team.
“I’m disappointed more in our team than him. We just played a soft game.”
Gallant did not stutter. Shesterkin will be between the pipes for Game 5 with the Rangers’ season on the line.
“Best goalie in the league,” Gallant said. “So I’m going to go with him.”