Igor Shesterkin was benched for the second-straight game as the Rangers lost a lopsided 7–2 matchup against the Penguins in Game 4 of the opening playoff series, which now sees the Blue Shirts on the brink of elimination with a 3–1 deficit.
“We played soft,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “We were soft all over the ice. That’s the biggest difference — we were soft all over the ice.”
The night started out well for the Rangers, as they found the back of the net first — coming on an Alexis Lafreniere wrist shot from just beyond the blue line, with the assist from Braden Schneider 2:06 minutes into the game.
Despite reaching the scoreboard first in the critical road game, the Ranger defense failed to contain the offensive onslaught from Pittsburgh, and gave up the next 4 goals in a row — with scores from Sidney Crosby to close the 1st period, followed by 3 scores to open the 2nd from Mike Matheson, Jake Guentzel and Mark Friedman.
Ranger star Adam Fox managed to temporarily stop the bleeding with a score with just under 6 minutes to go in the period, but the Penguins capped the period with another 2 goals to bring the game to 6–2.
The disastrous 5-goal second period was enough for Gallant, who yanked Shesterkin during the 2nd intermission in favor of backup netminder Alexandar Georgiev, who finished out the game. He finished the night with a forgettable 80% save percentage.
That decision came after Gallant pulled Shesterkin, the likely Vezina Trophy winner, during the previous game on Saturday night after he gave up 4 goals in the 1st period.
Despite his recent struggles, Gallant reiterated that he believed Shesterkin was the “best goalie in the league,” and committed to starting him in the do-or-die next game.
For more coverage of Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers, head to amNY.com.
Georgiev would give up one last icing-on-the-cake goal to Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin midway through the final period as Penguins fans loudly delighted in the blowout win, and the team’s 2-game series lead.
The Penguins were led in the game by Crosby, who scored once and assisted on two other goals. That performance comes after he recorded 2 points in each of the series’ first 3 games.
New York entered the playoffs as the 2nd seed in the Metropolitan Division with a 52-24-6 record, while Pittsburgh earned the 3rd spot at 46-25-11.
The teams will face off again in Game 5 of the series at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night — with the Rangers needing to win to stay alive in the postseason.