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For Rangers to make playoffs, Igor Shesterkin must be stellar

Igor Shesterkin. (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rangers got the good news first over the weekend when rookie goaltender Igor Shesterkin made an earlier-than-expected return to the crease after suffering a broken rib in a car accident in Brooklyn two weeks ago.

The bad news is the Rangers did little to support him during Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the last-place New Jersey Devils.

Shesterkin allowed five goals on 23 shots before he was pulled at the start of the third period — though the Rangers’ defense in front of him was nothing short of shambolic throughout the evening.

“I mean, this is what we’ve done all year, right?” Rangers coach David Quinn pondered after Saturday’s loss. “I mean, this is who we’ve been. There really isn’t much to talk about.”

It was just Shesterkin’s second loss in the NHL following a barnstorming 10-game debut before the car accident where he went 9-1-0 with a .940 save percentage. Though he did admit he was plenty rusty in his return despite New York’s poor defensive effort.

The Rangers’ sudden playoff hopes that stemmed from a torrid 12-3-0 stretch has slowed considerably over the last week after losing four of their last five games.

They’re still just three points out of a playoff spot as they embark on a three-game western road trip beginning Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars before visits to the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes.

The first two legs of the trip come on consecutive nights, allowing Quinn to implement a goalie rotation that is expected to feature Shesterkin as the No. 1 and Alexandar Georgiev as his backup.

That would continue to leave Henrik Lundqvist as the odd-man-out as all signs point toward an unceremonious end to his tenure with the Blueshirts.

But with 14 games left, the Rangers’ postseason hopes could very well hinge on their rookie netminder who has played just 11 games so far in the NHL.

He’ll have to be just as sterling as his first 10 starts if the Rangers want a chance because they can’t make the playoffs by simply outscoring their opponents every night for the next month.

The schedule is too tough for that to happen.

Looking at their road trip, the Avalanche are the Western Conference’s top-scoring team while the Stars have allowed the fewest goals in the league this season.

The remainder of the season features three matchups with Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, one in Washington against the Capitals, and one against the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers.

As seen on Saturday night, the Rangers’ defense just isn’t good enough yet. And that’s going to heap plenty of pressure on Shesterkin down the stretch.

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