NEW YORK (AP)Frank Vatrano and Artemi Panarin scored in the second period, Igor Shesterkin stopped 30 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and the New York Rangers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 Thursday night.
Dryden Hunt added an empty-net goal in the final minute and Mika Zibanejad had two assists for New York, which is 6-1-1 in its last eight games – including three victories against Pittsburgh.
”We played this team real well,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”This is another stepping stone for us.”
With Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby a late scratch with a non-COVID illness, the Penguins produced a meek attack against the Rangers, who also defeated their division rivals 5-1 at Madison Square Garden on March 25 and 3-2 in Pittsburgh on March 29.
”Their goalie did a good job at key moments,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. ”Tonight was a tight game.”
Tristan Jarry had 21 saves for Pittsburgh, which has lost four of five and is 2-5-1 in its last eight.
”I thought our team competed hard,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ”We’ve played a lot of good hockey this year. We believe in this group. We have to continue to stay with it.”
The Rangers inched closer to their first playoff berth since 2017, moving six points ahead of the Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division – and home-ice advantage in the first round -with 10 games remaining.
”It’s a great all-around win,” said Vatrano. who continued to excel on the Rangers’ top line with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. ”That was a playoff type of game. We put pressure on their defense.”
The Rangers would face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs if the teams remain where they are in the standings. Jarry welcomed that postseason prospect.
”We’ve played with a depleted lineup almost every time against them,” Jarry said. ”We will have some guys coming back who will add to our lineup and help us. I think it will be a good matchup.”
After the final buzzer, the teams engaged in a brief get-together at center ice following a few scrums along the boards.
”You think about that a little bit,” Vatrano said of a potential playoff clash between the squads. ”No matter who we play, we’ll be ready, The playoffs are a different animal.”
The Rangers improved to 23-7-4 at home with a 10-3-2 mark in their last 15 games on Garden ice. They reached 98 points for the 11th time in franchise history and the first time since 2016-17. It also marked the fourth time New York has 46 or more wins through 72 games. That was also achieved in 1971-72, 1972-73 and 2014-15.
Shesterkin had nine saves in the first period, eight in the second and 13 in the third to improve to 33-10-4. The Russian goaltender’s 33 victories are tied for third in the league and the shutout was his first since Jan. 13 at San Jose.
Panarin joked after the game that Shesterkin has done everything this season for the Rangers except score a goal from his crease.
”If he learned how to score as well, I think he’d really be there,” Panarin said through an interpreter with Shesterkin sitting to his right and laughing, too. ”But right now, we’ll keep him at the salary he’s got.”
After an uneventful first, Vatrano opened the scoring 24 seconds into the middle period, backhanding a loose puck past Jarry.
Zibanejad and Kreider assisted on Vatrano’s 16th goal of the season and his sixth in 12 games since joining the Rangers in a trade with Florida last month. Vatrano has points in six of his last eight games, including five goals. Zibanejad has points in eight of his last 11 games and his 46 assists are a career high.
Panarin – playing his 500th NHL game – made it 2-0 at 9:47, backhanding the puck past Jarry from the high slot for his 20th goal of the campaign. Panarin has 23 points – five goals and 18 assists – in his last 15 games.
Andrew Copp had an assist on the play, giving him 10 points in nine games since joining the Rangers in a trade from Winnipeg on March 21.
The Rangers are 17-1-0 when scoring first at home and they improved to 30-9-2 against Eastern Conference opponents.
PENGUINS POSTSEASON STREAK
With 92 points, Pittsburgh remains on track to clinch a playoff spot for a 16th consecutive year. Their stretch of 15-straight postseason appearances is the longest active streak among teams in the four major North American professional sports. The last time the Penguins missed the playoffs was 2005-06, Crosby’s rookie season.
NOTES: Penguins forward Filip Hallander made his NHL debut. The second-round pick in 2018 had 10 goals and 24 points in 53 games for Wilkes-Barre of the AHL . In addition to Crosby, the Penguins scratched forwards Jason Zucker and Radim Zoharna and defenseman John Marino. … The Rangers scratched forwards Greg McKegg, Julien Gauthier and Ryan Reaves plus defensemen Libor Hajek and Justin Braun. … Rangers forward Barclay Goodrow played his 400th career game.
Penguins: Host Washington on Saturday afternoon.
Rangers: Host Ottawa on Saturday night.