COLUMBUS, Ohio — So here’s the kindly jab Rangers coach David Quinn wanted to throw in the wake of calling Igor Shesterkin the team’s No. 1 goalie “right now,” and in the aftermath of Alex Georgiev posting back-to-back gems, capping off a sweep of the club’s three-game road trip with a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jackets on Friday night.
“Well, we’re 10-5 with three [goalies], so I’m thinking about bringing up a fourth,” Quinn joked, his team actually now 11-5 since they called up Shesterkin on Jan. 6, pushing Henrik Lundqvist to the background with just two starts in those five weeks.
“I know everyone made a big deal of the comment I made, and I said ‘right now’ [Shesterkin] was our No. 1 guy,” Quinn said. “I really feel like we have three No. 1 goalies. At any time, one of them is going to emerge and go on a run.
“I’ve been through this before as a coach when you have good goalies, and you tell the guys, ‘All right, the guy that’s got the hot streak can be the No. 1.’ That’s kind of the situation we’re in.”
The situation for the Rangers (30-23-4) is that they have won four in a row for the first time all season (and the first time since Oct. 30-Nov. 6, 2018), picking up three impressive wins on this trip in three difficult buildings.
Shesterkin played the first road game of his career at Winnipeg on Tuesday, earning his sixth win in his first seven starts. But he suffered a minor ankle injury, so Quinn turned to Georgiev for the comeback 4-3 shootout victory at Minnesota on Thursday. Georgiev was back against John Tortorella’s stingy Blue Jackets (30-18-11), making 36 saves with Lundqvist watching from the bench yet again.
“[Georgiev] hasn’t played a lot, so I wasn’t worried about the fact that he was tired,” Quinn said. “And he’s played well.”
It turns out the Rangers are finding a way to play well, too, even if it’s not always pretty. Both of these teams were tired from playing in different cities Thursday night (the Blue Jackets lost at Buffalo). The Rangers played simple, smart hockey, keeping Columbus from the high-danger areas and allowing Georgiev to clean up what came his way.
“The whole team accomplished it, not about me,” said the 24-year-old Bulgarian. “We played really great defense, made my job real easy. Really glad we got two important wins.”
After Pavel Buchnevich got his second goal in as many games with a deft redirection just 22 seconds into the game, the Rangers had to kill off the four minutes of penalties that Buchnevich got midway through the second period for a hold and an unsportsmanlike conduct — and they did just that.
“Our penalty kill was immense,” Quinn said.
Yet Oliver Bjorkstrand was able to tie it with 1:08 left in the second period, a backhand whack through traffic that took the game into the third tied, 1-1. Boone Jenner then had a shorthanded breakaway that Georgiev may have gotten a piece of before it hit the post and went out of play — maybe the only distinct odd-man rush the Rangers gave up all night.
Two seconds after that penalty ended, Mika Zibanejad fed Chris Kreider in front for a quick rip from one knee that beat rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins to give the Blueshirts a 2-1 lead with 3:11 left in regulation.
After Ryan Strome was gifted an empty-netter from Phillip Di Giuseppe, the Rangers knew they had just taken six points in these three road games and they were keeping their faint hope of the playoffs alive.
“We can’t get too high and get too excited, and get away from the things that we’ve been doing well that have led to success,” Kreider said. “We have to continue to be humble and continue to work, because that’s the cornerstone to the recent success we’ve had.”
That, and great goaltending helps — no matter who it’s coming from.