PITTSBURGH — The New York Rangers fell victim to a few bad spells in their first-round playoff series with the Penguins — and now they might not have much left in their season.
They ran out of the building at the PPG Paints Arena with a 7-2 loss in Game 4 on Monday, dropping them on a 1-3 hole in the series and setting up a potential elimination match on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
The lopsided first period cost them in Game Three on Saturday, but the second period on Monday was the worst of them all.
Pittsburgh scored five goals in the 16:14 distance, and Rangers looked more lifeless with each passing goal. The defense was tough, the effort lackluster (with a few exceptions) and goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin put in another sub-par display, pulling his second game in a row in favor of Alexander Georgiev.
Hard times in Pittsburgh
This was an unimaginable scenario when he finished the regular season with a 0.935 save percentage, making him the clear leader of the Vezina Cup.
He carried that momentum into the playoffs while stopping 118 of the 124 shots he faced in his first two games for a 0.952 SV%. But since arriving in Pittsburgh, Shesterkin has taken the plunge. In games 3 and 4 combined, he allowed 10 goals in 48 shots for an ugly SV% of .792.
Pittsburgh fans were unsympathetic, raining down chants of “We want Igor!” After he was grabbed to start the third period.
But while Shesterkin was the primary target of the harassment, he wasn’t the only perpetrator. The second period saw one crash after another, resulting in goals from Mike Matheson, Jake Goentzel, Mark Friedman, Danton Heinen and Jeff Carter.
They came in all different genres — long-range shots at the wrist, long-range shots, and five-hole head-scratching — as the Rangers created 16 shots on target and 12 high-risk scoring opportunities in the period, according to Natural Stat. trick. Meanwhile, they failed to create their own single HDCF in the middle of 20 minutes.
Georgiev stopped 10 of the 11 shots he encountered in the third, and it was too late by that moment. The question now is: Could coach Gerard Gallant consider starting his backup career in a match-winner or going home 5?
It feels like a long shot, but the goalkeeper wouldn’t matter if the Rangers couldn’t pull their teamwork together. They’ve had a bad habit of slipping back for one term in each of their three losses on this series – and now their season is on the brink.
The only small bright spot in Game 4 was Alexis Lavrinier’s Kid Line, Philippe Chettel and Cabo Kaku, with Lavrinier scoring early by scoring the first playoff goal of his career on his wrist from just the 2:06 slot of the match.
They were the only streak that looked like a scoring threat to third-series goalkeeper Louis Domingu, who continued his magical career with the Penguins with 22 blocks to claim his third win in four playoff games.
But Gallant decided to turn things around in the middle of the second period. Artemi Panarin offers to play Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, putting his top three forwards together in hopes of providing a spark. And while they were on the ice for Adam Fox’s second-half goal – a lucky bounce off Pittsburgh defender Mike Matheson – the fact remains that the Blues’ top players have been pretty inconsistent.
Lafrenière was moved to play in the second line with Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome, while Kevin Rooney took Lafrenière’s place with Chytil and Kakko.
Frank Vatrano, who finished in a tie at the worst team with a -3 rating, was demoted from the top streak all the way to fourth.
Vincent Z. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter Tweet embed.