New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said pulling star goaltender Igor Shesterkin after the first period in Game 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night was meant to spark the team and give the netminder some rest.
The Rangers would go on to lose the game in Pittsburgh 7-4 and now trail the Penguins 2-1 in their Eastern Conference first-round series.
Gallant decided to pull Shesterkin with the Rangers down 4-1 after he stopped 11 of 15 shots.
"Two of them were lucky bounces. It's 4-1 and you want to change momentum. Igor has been outstanding -- and really, if you look at it right now, he's played 10 periods, more or less, in basically 4½, five days. I thought it was a good time to jump-start it," the coach said.
The Rangers responded with three goals in the second period to tie the game before eventually faltering.
"It was 4-1. It was totally tilted. Sometimes you spark your team with a goalie change. Igor was our MVP all season. I thought we'd give him a little rest tonight and hopefully spark our team. And it worked," Gallant said. Backup Alexandar Georgiev made 19 saves in relief but gave up a stoppable goal to Penguins forward Danton Heinen at 11:02 of the third period that gave Pittsburgh a lead it would not relinquish.
But Gallant and the Rangers players said the key to Game 3 wasn't how they finished but how they started.
"I don't think we're playing together," Rangers forward Chris Kreider said. "Especially at this point in the season, it's not something you question. It's a matter of working smart, not just hard. It's a good learning experience for our group. First round period for us in the playoff."
Gallant said his message after the first period was one of pride.
"Let's man up and be men about this. We're not gonna die. We're not gonna sit back and let them continue to play like that against us," he said. "We came out and we battled back in that hockey game."
The Rangers and Penguins play Game 4 on Monday night.