NEW YORK (AP) — Igor Shesterkin admitted being nervous earlier in the day before his NHL debut.
“On my way to the arena, my hands were shaking,” the 24-year-old Russian said through a translator. “I couldn’t even drink water.”
Then he gave up two goals on Colorado’s first three shots before settling down to finish with 29 saves in the New York Rangers’ 5-3 win over the Avalanche on Tuesday night.
“It wasn’t how I would have ideally wanted (the start) to go, but I am very grateful for everyone’s support, all my teammates and all the fans,” Shesterkin said. “Honestly, I wasn’t panicking. I just kind of laughed it off, and I saved the next (few shots) and gained confidence as the game went on.”
Shesterkin was 15-4-3 with a 1.93 goals-against average and three shutouts in 23 games with Hartford of the AHL in his first season in North America.
Artemi Panarin had a goal and two assists, Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome each had a goal and an assist, and Chris Kreider and Brady Skjei also scored for New York. Jesper Fast had three assists and Tony DeAngelo added two as the Rangers snapped a three-game skid.
“There was a lot I liked about our game, not just our goalie,” coach David Quinn said. “I thought we played a thorough game. ... Everybody in that locker room realizes if we’re going to have a chance to have the season we think we’re capable of having, we certainly can’t play the way we have the first 30 games where we’ve got the inconsistencies and that pond hockey approach from time to time.”
J.T. Compher scored twice and Nathan MacKinnon had a goal in his 500th game for Colorado, which has lost two straight. Andrei Burakovsky had two assists and Philipp Grubauer finished with 24 saves.
“I didn’t like the game at all,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “We didn’t win enough races, we didn’t win enough battles, we weren’t physical enough when we didn’t win the race. We got outworked, outskated.”
Shesterkin gloved Ian Cole’s shot with 2:18 remaining to keep the Rangers ahead 4-3, drawing chants of “Igor! Igor!” from the Madison Square Garden crowd. He stopped all 13 Colorado shots in the third period.
The Avalanche pulled Grubauer for an extra skater with about two minutes to go, but Panarin sealed the win with an empty-netter with 28 seconds left.
Quinn liked the way his team played in the third period with a lead.
“We just continued to play,” he said. “I didn’t think we took our foot off the pedal. ... We kept playing, established our forecheck, we defended well.”
The score was tied 2-all after 20 minutes, and Skjei gave the Rangers their first lead with their third straight goal on a long slap shot at 8:05 of the second for his sixth of the season.
Compher tied it 3-all when he converted a pass across the front of the crease from Burakovsky for his seventh with 8 1/2 minutes left in the middle period.
Strome regained the lead for New York a little more than two minutes later. Fast tapped the rebound of a long shot by Panarin to the right side to Strome, who fired it into the wide-open right side of the net for his 12th with 6:21 remaining in the second.
Compher got the Avalanche on the scoreboard on their first shot as he deflected Samuel Girard’s pass to the front up over Shesterkin’s shoulder at 4:44.
MacKinnon made it 2-0 on Colorado’s third shot less than two minutes later as he stole the puck, skated in and put it through Shesterkin’s legs for his 26th at 6:34.
Shesterkin gave up just one goal on the next 29 shots against an Avalanche team that came in averaging a league-leading 3.63 goals per game.
“We didn’t really help him out in the beginning,” Zibanejad said. “I thought he played solid, really well. He came up with the saves when we needed him to. ... Good to see him get the first win.”
The Rangers pulled within one on a power play as Kreider tipped a pass from Strome past Grubauer from the right side for his 13th at 8:57.
Zibanejad tied it with 4:37 left in the opening period, deflecting DeAngelo’s return pass past Grubauer for his 17th.
The game got chippy a minute later. Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren knocked down Colorado’s Joonas Donskoi with a hard hit near the side boards. Avalanche teammate Nazem Kadri took exception and traded punches with Lindgren. Both Kadri and Lindgren were giving majors for fighting, and Kadri also received a minor for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct. A shaken-up Donskoi headed to the dressing room. Neither Donskoi nor Lindgren returned to the game.
NOTES: With the Rangers carrying three goalies on the roster, Henrik Lundqvist served as Shesterkin’s backup and Alexandar Georgiev was scratched. ... Panarin has 10 assists and 12 points in the last six games. For the season, he has 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) in 42 games. ... Strome has five goals and four assists in his last six games. ... Zibanejad has 10 goals and 16 points in his last 12 games. ... Colorado fell to 14-8-2 away from home, second to Washington (17) for the most road wins. The Avalanche, who lost 1-0 at the New York Islanders on Monday night, dropped to 7-3-1 in their last 11 road games. ... MacKinnon has four goals and 12 points over the last eight games. ... Compher has four goals in his last six games. ... Girard has nine assists in his last five games.
Avalanche: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night to open a five-game homestand heading into the All-Star break.