Bedeviled: Rangers blow lead, miss chance to leapfrog rivals in Metro

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 07: The New Jersey Devils celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory against Igor Shesterkin #31 and the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center on January 07, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 07: The New Jersey Devils celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory against Igor Shesterkin #31 and the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center on January 07, 2023 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images ) /
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NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – JANUARY 07: The New Jersey Devils celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory against Igor Shesterkin #31 and the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center on January 07, 2023, in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images )
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – JANUARY 07: The New Jersey Devils celebrate a 4-3 overtime victory against Igor Shesterkin #31 and the New York Rangers at the Prudential Center on January 07, 2023, in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images ) /

With one period remaining in Saturday’s matinee and boasting a 3-1 lead, it looked as if the Rangers were going to leapfrog the rival New Jersey Devils for second place in the Metropolitan Division standings. Unfortunately, not even a heroic performance from Igor Shesterkin could contain a spirited Devils rally.

They tied the score and forced overtime before Damon Severson’s goal sent Prudential Center into a frenzy, snapping the hosts’ eight-game home losing streak.

While this loss stung and will reverberate over the next two days until the Rangers host the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, the Blueshirts’ point streak has been extended to five. Here are my takeaways from the loss:

STARTING FAST:
At the outset, the Rangers had a dream start, showing they would be ready for the challenge. It only took them a mere 96 seconds into the contest to strike first, as former Devil Jimmy Vesey took a pass from Alexis Lafreniere on the right side, streaked into the neutral zone, deked to his left, and beat the defenseman and Vitek Vanecek for the early lead. It was Vesey’s seventh goal of the season and first since he signed his two-year extension earlier this week.

THE SHESTERKIN SHOW:

Should the Rangers have won this game, fans would’ve added this to the collection as a trademark showing from the reigning Vezina-trophy winner, who made 40 saves on 44 shots, but as we know, that didn’t happen.

Following Vesey’s early tally, the remainder of the frame was dominated by the Devils, who outshot New York 19-9 in the first period, as it was Igor Shesterkin who stood on his head, including net front robberies on Jesper Bratt and Severson, even weathering a 5on 3 New Jersey attack to keep the lead intact.

The second period was similar, as Igor was under siege from the drop of the puck and made an impressive save on an early New Jersey odd-man rush, which led to his offense helping him out with another goal. With the hosts’ defenseman pinching in looking for the equalizer, Barclay Goodrow’s stretch pass connected with Adam Fox, who fed Julien Gauthier for the putaway and a 2-0 Rangers lead.

The Blueshirts had an opportunity to triple their advantage on the power play when Miles Wood was boxed for interfering with Braden Schneider. Still, their patented Mika Zibanejad one-timer play failed, and that was all.

Sensing a momentum shift, Jack Hughes took advantage of an errant Goodrow back pass and, on his ninth try of the contest, beat Shesterkin to slice the Rangers lead in half. The goal ultimately snapped Braden Schneider’s streak of finishing games with an even rating or better at 22 and was the first even-strength tally he allowed with his new fourth-line partner Ben Harpur, none of which was their fault.

With 6:45 remaining in the period, Chris Kreider poked home a rebound shot from K’Andre Miller to restore New York’s two-goal advantage. It was Kreider’s second straight game with a tally following his short-handed snipe in Thursday’s 4-1 win at the Montreal Canadiens(Thanks for the correction in the comments@Joe Ziltch), and his 19th of the season, tying Zibanejad for the team lead.

When time ran out on the second period, the Blueshirts, despite getting outshot 33-22, were up 3-1 and appeared 20 minutes away from escaping town with a statement win over their chief rivals from across the river. Instead, the third period reminded us of the resolve these 2022-23 Devils possess and how hard they’ll be to put away both in the standings and the ensuing Hudson River matchups.

A MATINEE MELTDOWN:

The collapse began following inexcusable Artemi Panarin misfires and another failed Rangers power play. After Vitali Kravtsov forced a New Jersey turnover, he found the breadman for a breakaway, but he put it wide to keep it a two-goal game. Luckily, Dougie Hamilton was boxed moments later, putting the Blueshirts on the man advantage for the second time, where Panarin missed yet another golden opportunity.

After Shesterkin bailed his team out with a few more saves, Kreider set up #10 in the slot, but he hit the side of the net, adding to his poor third-period montage. Akin to their first goal, New Jersey quickly responded by putting one on the scoreboard.

The Devils were gifted a poet play when Kaapo Kakko was penalized for slashing before Bratt wired home a one-timer from Hughes and Nico Hischier to bring his boys within one. Then with 9:32 left in regulation, Hughes netted his second of the game to tie it at three and effectively force overtime.

As you would expect, the tension had risen in the building to the point where players and coaches on both teams referred to the contest as one that felt like a playoff game. But with 2:13 left in the extra frame, Lafrenière’s two-on-one pass was intercepted by Severson before the winger collided with Yegor Sharengovich as both tried to chase down the play.

The play set up a two-on-1, which Severson buried to end it, and prompted a friend of mine who’s a Devils fan to take to social media with well-played words of “No quit in NJ.”

The defeat completed the first half of the 2022-23 Rangers(22-12-7) season, which after a slow start, has seen a recent 11-2-2 stretch catapult them to third place in the Metropolitan Division, and within striking distance of New Jersey, whose New York trails by two points and the first place Carolina Hurricanes by five.

The Canes have lost three straight following an 11-game win streak and 17-game point streak which was snapped by the Blueshirts, who defeated them 5-3 on Monday at Madison Square Garden. Carolina was stonewalled at home 5-3 against the Nashville Predators, where Jusse Saros made 64 saves, and lost in a shootout at the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 on Saturday.