RALEIGH, N.C. – Maybe it doesn't matter whether Henrik Lundqvist is on the bench or in the stands while he watches the Rangers play. But it was incredible when the legendary blue shirt goalkeeper was in street clothes when his team played their biggest game in probably two years.
The start went to Igor Shesterkin, Alexandar Georgiev supported himself and the Rangers continued their climb with a 5-2 victory over the hurricanes on Friday evening.
The Rangers (32-24-4) entered the playoffs with a weak but legitimate hope and have now won six of their last seven, nine out of 12 and 13 out of 19. Since Shesterkin was drafted on January 6th, he has won eight of his first nine NHL starts. Lundqvist has only started three games since Shesterkin's call, but by Friday he had saved all the games he hadn't played.
The Hurricanes (34-22-4) came in with a six point lead over the Rangers to reach second place on the wildcard. The islanders, blue jackets, panthers and maple leafs were all in the mix.
At the start of the third period, Shesterkin was great and the Rangers had a 3-1 lead. Artemi Panarin scored the 4: 1 with a 1:10 Powerplay goal of the third for the 31st time in the season – and his 81st point. However, this was offset by a Hurricanes Powerplay goal, the first Powerplay goal, that the Rangers had scored in seven games and 19 chances when Sebastian Aho scored a goal at 5:12 a.m. and finished with 4: 2.
But with Carolina goalkeeper Petr Mrazek on the bench for the additional attacker, Ryan Strome ended the matter in the empty net 5-2.
Shesterkin had been tested early and had made a couple of big saves at a Carolina power play, including two in quick succession near Captain Justin Williams. He also made a great reactionary glove against Nino Niederreiter to score a goalless draw.
It took so long until Mika Zibanejad blocked a shot and grabbed a runaway and raised a backhand past Mrazek at 4:41 p.m. to take a 1-0 lead.
The Hurricanes were able to tie it up when the blueshirts came back slowly just after their power game ended, allowing Brock McGinn to go through the slot and take a shot at Shesterkin's glove at 3:25 a second, which made him 1 -1.
Panarin then made a great defensive game to create a weird situation nearby that ended when Jesper Fast's centering feed went off defender Brett Pesce's skate at 9:48 and the Rangers took a 2-1 lead. Before the second period ended, the blueshirts got another good jump when Brady Skjei went around the Carolina net and threw one forward, where he met and entered Jake Gardiner's skate and gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead the third.