There are several side effects that come with facing the same opponent eight times in a single — and shortened — season. The Rangers have played the Flyers four times this month, and after extremely lopsided wins over Philadelphia in the previous two games, they had a vengeful group on their hands Saturday afternoon.
The Flyers buckled down and pulled out a 2-1 win to redeem themselves after they had been outscored 17-3 in their past two meetings with the Rangers, ending a four-game skid.
“I think it was our matchup against them the last two games, but also think it’s how they’ve been playing lately,” acting Rangers head coach Kris Knoblauch said following the loss, which dropped the Blueshirts to 15-14-4. “They’re a good hockey team [that] wants to turn things around so we knew their intensity and their compete levels would be very high and it was.”
Despite the loss, if there were any concerns regarding Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin’s recovery from the groin strain that sidelined him for 10 games, he put those to rest.
In his second start in the past three days (his only starts since March 4), Shesterkin kept the Rangers competitive with 35 saves on 37 shots. He was sharp, keen in his positioning and quick with his glove.
But a defensive breakdown in front of the Rangers’ net at 15:33 of the third period led to the Flyers’ game-winning goal. Samuel Morin blasted the puck from the top of the zone through a bit of traffic and past Shesterkin.
Nevertheless, Shesterkin gave Philadelphia fits. With the game tied 1-1, Flyers center Scott Laughton jumped out on a breakaway 5 ½ minutes into the third period, but Shesterkin stifled his backhander to keep the Rangers’ chances alive.
And in the opening minutes of the second period, Shesterkin made four clutch saves. That included back-to-back robberies on Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Shayne Gostisbehere, in which the 25-year-old Russian truly pushed his recovering groin to the limit with a long stretch of his right leg to preserve the 1-0 lead the Rangers held until midway through the second period.
It was another tremendous outing for Shesterkin following his return in Thursday’s 8-3 victory over the Flyers, when he made 41 saves.
“He’s looked great,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “Definitely made a lot of big saves and made the saves you need a goalie to make to win the game.”
The Flyers opened up with the expected desperation of a team that was looking to turn the tide, but Shesterkin came up with eight saves in the first five minutes of the game on the way to a 17-save first-period.
Mika Zibanejad continued his tear against Philadelphia at 9:29 of the first on the power play, when he banged home a pinpoint pass from Ryan Strome into a wide-open net for his seventh goal against the Flyers in their past three meetings.
But the Rangers found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-on-3 opportunity halfway through the second period, which pumped some life back into Philadelphia. Shesterkin came up with two big saves while his team was down two players, but Flyers center Nolan Patrick redirected a point shot from Sean Couturier in the final seconds of the power play to tie it up 1-1.
Asked if he was surprised at how well Shesterkin has been playing despite such a long hiatus, Knoblauch made it clear he wasn’t fazed.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I had some time with him in Hartford, I know how good Igor can be, I saw him last year. I know that sometimes it can be hard coming back from injuries and time off but with Shesty, that’d never surprise me.”