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Shesterkin lifts Rangers to win over Avs in NHL debut

New York Rangers' Brady Skjei, center, celebrates with goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31), next to Jacob Trouba (8), after the team's NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in New York. The Rangers won 5-3. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In his long-awaited NHL debut, Igor Shestorkin shook off a miserable start to life in the big leagues to help the Rangers snap a two-game losing streak in a 5-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The 24-year-old netminder, who has been billed to be the next Henrik Lundqvist, made 29 saves on the night, including all 10 he faced in the third period.

His solid introduction provided a sturdy backdrop for a Rangers team that got one goal and two assists out of Artemi Panarin and multi-point efforts from Mika Zibanejad (1 G, 1 A), Ryan Strome (1G, 1 A), and Jesper Fast (3A).

Head coach David Quinn’s decision to trot out the rookie ensured that Shesterkin would not be eased into the NHL. Just one day after being promoted from AHL Hartford on Monday, he was facing an Avalanche team that entered Tuesday night leading the NHL with 3.63 goals scored per game.

He couldn’t have had much worse of a start to life in the NHL, either, yielding two goals on the first three shots he faced.

JT Compher scored the first of two on the night when he tipped home a wrister through traffic 4:44 into the game. Just 1:50 later, a turnover in the Rangers zone sent the red-hot Nathan MacKinnon in alone on Shesterkin. The All-Star forward finished with ease through the rookie goalie’s five-hole to put the Rangers down two inside 10 minutes.

“It wasn’t ideally how I wanted it to go,” Shesterkin said of his start through a translator after his debut. “Honestly, I wasn’t panicking. I just kind of laughed it off. I saved the next shots and gained confidence as the game went on.”

“Well we didn’t hesitate to give [Shesterkin] a taste of Rangers hockey,” Quinn said of his defense’s slow start in front of the young goalie.

Chris Kreider found a quick rebuttal 2:23 later to settle things down for the Rangers, deflecting a Strome pass with his back turned to Grubauer’s goal through his legs and the Avalanche goalie’s wickets to get New York back within one.

Zibanejad would tie it up with 4:37 left in the first when he was able to poke home a finish off a feed from Anthony DeAngelo. It was Zibanejad’s sixth point in his last six games.

“I thought we played really well down 2-0,” Quinn said. “There was a lot I liked about our game, not just our goalie.”

For a first period filled with skilled play, it would end in fisticuffs, though, as Ryan Lindgren left his feet and elbowed Avalanche forward Joonas Donskoi in the head in what could very well be a suspendable offense that went uncalled by the officials.

Donskoi’s teammate, Nazem Kadri, took matters into his own hands and jumped Lindgren to decisively win the fight but received a game misconduct and put the Avalanche down a man for two minutes for instigating. The Rangers would not capitalize on the opportunity while Lindgren would not return to the game.

“We kept him out for precautionary reasons,” Quinn said. “He’s going to be fine.”

With the Avalanche down two skaters for the remainder of the night, the Rangers took the lead eight minutes into the second when Brady Skjei’s slapper from the point went untouched through traffic and beat a screened Grubauer.

Compher provided a temporary equalizer with his second goal of the night, but Strome provided the eventual game-winner just 2:07 after with six minutes to go in the second.

“Everybody in that locker room realizes that if we’re going to have a chance to have the season we think we’re capable of having, we certainly can’t play the way we have through the first 30 games,” Quinn said. “I think in the last two games, we’ve looked like a different, purposeful hockey team.”

Artemi Panarin snapped a two-game pointless streak in that period, assisting on both Rangers’ goals.

He would provide the icing on the cake with an empty-netter in the final seconds to secure Shestorkin’s first victory as an NHL goaltender.

“I can play a lot better, I just need to get used to it a little more,” he said when summarizing his performance. “Emotions were brilliant.”

Joe Pantorno