Igor Shesterkin was back in net, Mika Zibanejad scored another goal and the Rangers still wasted a chance Saturday night to take another step forward in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt with what David Quinn branded an “alarming” team-wide dud.
Shesterkin coughed up four straight goals on 11 shots in the second period in his first appearance in two weeks, and Henrik Lundqvist mopped up in the third as the Rangers got trounced in all facets of the game on home ice by the Devils, 6-4, at the Garden.
“The goaltender was the least of our problems tonight. I don’t think we had one guy have a good night tonight,” Quinn said. “This is kind of what we’ve done all year, right? Unfortunately this is who we’ve been.
“There really isn’t much to talk about. They were better than us in every capacity. ‘Want’ is a very important characteristic in this sport. We played a team that wanted it much, much more than we did.”
Shesterkin, who seized the No. 1 goalie job from Lundqvist by winning nine of his first 10 NHL starts with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage after a Jan. 6 recall, suffered a fractured rib in a car accident with teammate Pavel Buchnevich on Feb. 23 in Brooklyn.
The 24-year-old Russian completed a full practice Friday before being cleared to return after Alexandar Georgiev had started five of the six games while Shesterkin was sidelined.
The Devils managed five goals on 23 shots through two periods before Lundqvist stopped all six shots he faced in the third as the Rangers (36-28-4) remained three points behind the seventh-place Islanders and No. 8 Columbus in the East.
“I don’t know if they were still excited over what happened against Washington, Mika’s five goals. There was such euphoria, the building was rocking,” Quinn said about Zibanejad’s franchise record-tying five goals in Thursday’s 6-5 overtime win over the Capitals. “I don’t know whether we just didn’t get over it, but it’s disappointing.”
Zibanejad netted his ninth goal in four games and 39th of the season on a give-and-go return pass from Adam Fox at 7:18 for a 2-1 Rangers lead — with fans chanting “Igor” a few times — after 20 minutes. But the Blueshirts certainly weren’t fooled by that cushion.
“I think we didn’t have it in the first period, either,” Zibanejad said. “We just couldn’t find a way to get back to our game. We made it really easy for them. If we want to play in the playoffs, we can’t do this. Just a bad performance.”
Shesterkin’s rust emerged in the middle session, allowing Kyle Palmieri’s second of the game 44 seconds into the period and another goal by defenseman Fredrik Claesson less than one minute later for a 3-2 turnaround lead at 1:36.
Travis Zajac (power play) and John Hayden also beat Shesterkin within 25 seconds of each other for a 5-2 lead for the Devils, who reached NHL-.500 (28-28-12) and improved to 10-4-2 in their last 16 games.
“We played way too loose,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “This time of year, it’s only going to get harder. We have to understand that.”
Quinn sent Lundqvist out to start the third to chants of “Henrik,” for just his fifth appearance (second in relief) since the beginning of February.
Greg McKegg drew the Blueshirts within 5-3 with a deflection goal with 6:18 remaining, but Zajac added an empty-netter for his second of the game with 56 seconds to go. Tony DeAngelo also scored in the closing seconds for the Rangers.
“It’s not surprising, because this has happened to us way too many times,” Quinn said. “I don’t want to take anything away from [the Devils], they’ve been doing this for a while, but to really get outplayed the way we did tonight in every capacity is alarming.”