After a rough start to his career - two goals against in his first 10 minutes in the NHL - Igor Shesterkin was able to settle in as he and Artemi Panarin led the New York Rangers to a 5-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche.
It was a game that Philipp Grubauer would like to have back as he let in four of the first 20 shots he faced.
Nathan Mackinnon scored his 26th goal of the season but for the most part, Colorado’s best players didn’t play like it at Madison Square Garden.
It didn’t take long for the Avalanche to test the rookie as J.T. Compher opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game. Samuel Girard simply threw the puck on net and it bounced off of Compher for his sixth of the season. Only two minutes later, it was time for Nathan MacKinnon to welcome Shesterkin to the league. The Rangers just flat out decided to stop playing defense as they give MacKinnon a breakaway on the rookie. He capitalized on the blown play to give the Avalanche an early 2-0 lead.
With a chance to put this one away early, the Avs quickly let New York back in it, surrendering a powerplay goal to Chris Kreider before the midway point of the first period.
Then things got ugly. After chipping the puck into the offensive zone, Joonas Donskoi was run over by Rangers defender Charlie Lindgren. He led with his elbow and it was a clear hit to the head. Lindgren will almost certainly be hearing from the Department of Player Safety tomorrow and a suspension is very likely.
After the hit, Nazem Kadri jumped in to defend his teammate as he absolutely pummeled Lindgren - it will go down as a fight, but really, Lindgren got five minutes for getting his face punched in. Neither Donskoi nor Lindgren returned to the game.
The Avalanche went back to the PK as Kadri got the instigator penalty on the play. This time, they were able to kill it of, however, just a few minutes later Mika Zibanejad scored his 17th of the season to tie the game up at two going into the intermission.
After some back and forth play to start the period, Artemi Panarin decided he wanted to take over for a shift. The star winger created some sustained puck possession before finding Brady Skjei who wired a point shot past Grubauer to give the Rangers their first lead of the game.
The lead would only last a few minutes as Compher scored his second of the night to tie the game back up at three.
The back and forth continued as Ryan Strome got in on the action two minutes later. It was a save the Avs needed from Grubauer but just didn’t get. Strome’s 12th of the season put the Rangers up 4-3.
That’s how it would stay until Panrin was able to ice the game with an empty net goal in the final minute to make the final score 5-3. The Avalanche put on a lot of pressure. The shot attempts were 22-12 in the final frame, but the Avs were just unable to solve the rookie netminder.
The team showed some flashes but were definitely a fatigued bunch as they were outplayed by the inferior team for long stretches in this game. The Avs were dominant when the pair of Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson were on the ice (the top pair had a 65% and 74% shot share respectively) but the other four defenders looked really bad. This was one of the few games this season in which Cale Makar looked like a rookie.
Hopefully we get some good news on Donskoi as team heads back home to host the Pittsburgh Penguins - who might be getting Sidney Crosby back - on Friday night.