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Down 3-1, New York Rangers stick with struggling Igor Shesterkin, still ‘the best goalie in the league’

The New York Rangers are sticking with Igor Shesterkin for Game 5 of their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, despite pulling their star goaltender in back-to-back losses that have pushed them to the brink of elimination.

“He’s the best goalie in the league. So, I’m going with him,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after the Penguins’ 7-2 rout in Game 4 in Pittsburgh Monday night, giving the hosts a 3-1 series lead.

Shesterkin was pulled after the second period in Game 3 and Game 4 in Pittsburgh. Game 5 is Wednesday night back at Madison Square Garden.

“He’s probably real frustrated. It’s a team effort and he’ll be back in there and be ready to win the next game. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him,” Gallant said. “I’m more disappointed in our team than him. At least three pucks were deflected by him. But we just played a soft game.”

The Rangers struck first just 2:06 into Game 4, as Alexis Lafreniere beat Penguins third-string goalie Louis Domingue with a long-range shot. The Penguins responded on a Sidney Crosby power-play goal that wasn’t initially ruled as a goal. The puck disappeared under Shesterkin’s pad near the goal line, but the officials said video review showed Crosby’s shot crossed the line.

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The Penguins blew open the game in the second period. Defenseman Mike Matheson’s shot deflected off of Rangers forward Frank Vatrano and knuckled past Shesterkin at 3:14. Just 24 seconds later, Jake Guentzel deflected a Bryan Rust pass into a gaping net for a 3-1 lead. Defenseman Mark Friedman scored from the slot at 11:22. The Rangers’ Adam Fox got one back at 14:04 to cut the lead to 4-2, but Danton Heinen (18:53) and Jeff Carter (19:28) scored on deflections for a 6-2 advantage.

Shesterkin departed the game after two periods, having given up six goals on 30 shots. He was pulled after two periods in Game 3, having given up four goals on 15 shots.

“We weren’t playing very good in front of him. It wasn’t on him at all,” Rangers forward Andrew Copp said.

For the second straight game, backup Alexandar Georgiev entered the game and stabilized the Rangers. He gave up one goal on 20 shots in the third period of Game 3. In Game 4, he gave up one goal on 11 shots. But Gallant said it’s still Shesterkin’s crease in Game 5, with the Rangers’ season on the line, believing that the team in front of him was the reason New York is down 3-1.

“Total team disappointment There wasn’t much commitment to playing defense tonight,” the coach said. “We played soft. Soft all over the ice. That’s the biggest difference.”

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had three points in the win, expects the Rangers won’t go quietly.

“We know we have a lot of work left (to do). You’re going to see the other team’s best the next game,” he said.

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