Chris Kreider paved the way for a feel-good Rangers victory, but when No. 1 goaltender Igor Shesterkin was carried off the ice midway through the third period, there were no more good feelings.
The Rangers, behind a hat trick from Kreider following a lackluster first period, prevailed 6-1 over the Devils on Thursday night at Prudential Center, but they lost Shesterkin to what looked to be an injury to his right leg. It was the Rangers’ first win over the Devils this season (after they were manhandled in the previous two), but came at a potentially high cost.
Shesterkin, who was steadily emerging as the Rangers’ go-to netminder, sprawled out on the ice after making a save against the Devils’ Damon Severson with 12:42 left in the game. As Shesterkin was carried off the ice and into the locker room, he couldn’t put any weight on his right leg.
While an impressive number of Rangers fans contributed to the crowd of 1,800 in Newark, a majority of the team seemed not to have shown up. Except for Kreider, who scored his seventh, eighth and ninth goals (for a total of 10 points) in his past seven games to almost single-handedly secure the win.
Kreider put the Rangers on his back as top-line center Mika Zibanejad fell into likely his lowest point of the season and was benched for a majority of the second period. Zibanejad logged just 3:59 of ice time in the first period, and then didn’t take a shift until more than half of the middle frame was over.
With Artemi Panarin still on an indefinite leave of absence and out of the lineup for a fifth straight game, Jacob Trouba nursing a broken thumb and Zibanejad looking like a shell of himself, Kreider has been the backbone of the Rangers.
There was a reason Rangers brass signed the 29-year-old winger to a seven-year deal last February — for games like this.
Jack Hughes had the Devils’ lone tally of the night, his third goal (and fourth point) in three games against the Rangers this season. The goal gave the Devils a 1-0 lead heading into the second.
That’s when Kreider went to work on keeping his hot streak ablaze, scoring back-to-back goals roughly 5 ½ minutes apart in the second. After Devils forward Kyle Palmieri went to the box for slashing, Kreider crashed the net and buried a slick feed from Ryan Strome for his sixth power-play goal of the season, and his fourth in the last six games.
His second tally of the night came after he deflected a slap shot from Ryan Lindgren past Devils netminder Mackenzie Blackwood at 13:57. It appears Kreider has begun settling into his home in front of the crease again.
Kreider completed the hat trick 23 seconds into the third. Goals from Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Smith and Alexis Lafreniere rounded out the win.
The Devils came out exactly the way they had in the first two games against the Rangers, coasting through the neutral zone and passing crisply. Hughes rang the puck off the post to set the tone, while the Blueshirts just chased the puck and skated on top of one another.
Hughes’ goal at 7:12 of the first was a microcosm of how the Rangers competed in the first. With nobody in blue hustling back, Hughes cleaned up a puck that bounced off the back boards for the 1-0 lead.
Off the faceoff at 10:04, Devils defenseman Dmitry Kulikov hit the pipe with a rocket shot from the point.