Forget the rebuilding, a massive hot streak suddenly has the New York Rangers in the conversation of playoff contention.
A 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden was the Blueshirts’ third-straight win, their seventh over their last eight and eighth in their last 10.
Since Jan. 31, the Rangers are 10-3-0 while gaining points in at 26 of their last 41 games.
Not bad for a team that wasn’t expected to sniff the playoffs this year.
Entering Sunday night’s slate of NHL games, it left the Rangers just four points out of a playoff spot in a loaded Metropolitan Division that still has them sitting in seventh place out of eight teams.
Their current hot streak has been headlined by the emergence of goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who has starred since getting called up to the NHL in January.
In 10 starts, the 24-year-old is 9-1-0 with a .940 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average.
He is the first Ranger in franchise history to earn nine wins in his first 10 career appearances. He’s also just the fourth netminder in NHL history to win that many games in his first 10, joining Frank Brimsek (1938-39), Bob Froese (1982-83), and Frederik Andersen (2013-14).
Shersterkin’s current seven-game winning streak is tied for the longest by a rookie goalie in Rangers history (Jim Henry, 1941-42) and tied for the fifth-longest win streak in franchise history.
His latest triumph against the Sharks featured 44 saves on 46 shots to keep the Rangers in early proceedings after San Jose unleashed 22 shots in the first period alone.
“I like it when there’s a lot of shots,” Shesterkin said. “But it doesn’t how many shots there are, you have to be prepared to help the team win.”
He has yet to post a game with a save percentage below .900, becoming the first goalie to do so in his first 10 starts since the NHL started recording saves in 1955-56.
“I thought he was outstanding again,” Quinn said.
Saturday’s win was the Rangers’ final game before the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday, which could throw a wrench in their postseason pursuit.
One of the team’s most valuable players, Chris Kreider, is considered one of the top trade chips in the NHL. The 28-year-old — who has an expiring contract at season’s end — is in the midst of a career year with 24 goals and 21 assists in 60 games.
As a perennial 20-goal scorer, Kreider’s will parlay this season into a sizable new contract — one that could be too rich for the Rangers’ blood. They already have big contracts to pay with Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and Henrik Lundqvist while possessing the need to properly address other areas of a budding roster during the offseason.
New York’s new-found playoff hopes, however, won’t affect the team’s decision to deal Kreider, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman.
Signing Kreider to an extension would require some salary-cap gymnastics from Rangers management. If they feel as though they won’t be able to get something done, they will trade him.
“We’re here until we’re not,” Quinn said.