NEW YORK (AP) — Ryan Strome scored twice, Adam Fox added a goal and Igor Shesterkin made 31 saves as the New York Rangers recorded a third-straight shutout and their 50th win of the season, 3-0 over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.
Eric Comrie made 31 saves for the Jets. Winnipeg trails the Dallas Stars by 10 points in the race for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Jets have five games remaining.
After a scoreless first period, Strome broke through on the power play against Comrie at 15:57 of the second. Assists went to Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. Zibanejad has a career-high 50 assists and 78 points.
Fox scored his 11th of the season at 11:47 of the third, with assists to Panarin and former Jets forward Andrew Copp.
Panarin has points in seven of his last eight games and a career-best 70 assists. Panarin is the first Rangers player to reach that mark since Wayne Gretzky had 72 assists in 1996-97.
Strome added an empty-net goal — his 19th — at 19:27 to complete the scoring, with assists to Chris Kriender and Copp, who has points (five goals, 10 assists) in 12 of his 14 games with New York since being acquired from Winnipeg on March 21.
“It's a nice accolade, means a lot for our team,'' Strome said of the 50-win mark achieved for the just the fifth time in Rangers' franchise history. ”We just come to the rink every day with a fresh mindset about the next game."
Shesterkin was stellar from the start, making six saves in the first, 12 in the second and 13 in the third. The shutout was his second straight and sixth of the season. He also blanked Detroit 4-0 on Saturday after backup Alexandar Georgiev stopped Philadelphia 4-0 on April 13.
It was the first time since the 1972-73 season that the Rangers recorded three straight shutouts.
“I love playing and I love winning,'' Shesterkin said through an interpreter. ”You have to keep working."
Shesterkin’s best save was a point-blank right-arm stop on Jets captain Blake Wheeler at 17:23 of the middle period. He also denied Nikolaj Ehlers with just over five minutes left in the third to preserve the shutout.
The 26-year-old Russian netminder is 36-11-4 this season and become the first Rangers goalie since Henrik Lundqvist in 2011-12 to with six or more shutouts in a season. He also improved to 21-3-2 this season when making 30 or more saves in a game.
“He's been outstanding,'' Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Our goaltender has been been really good, really strong. It's great to see."
The Rangers haven’t allowed a goal since an empty-net score with six seconds left in the third period of a 4-2 home loss to Carolina last Tuesday.
The Rangers reached the 50-win mark for the first time since 2014-15, when they won a franchise-record 53 games. They also reached the plateau in 1991-92, 1993-94 and 2011-12.
Gallant became just the second Rangers coach to reach the 50-win mark in his first season behind the bench. Gallant and Mike Keenan are also the only coaches to win 50 games with two franchises in their first season.
Gallant won 51 games with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18, while Keenan had 52 wins for the 1993-94 eventual Stanley Cup-champion Rangers and 53 for the 1984-85 Philadelphia Flyers.
“It's huge. It's been a real good year and a lot of fun,'' said Gallant, who replaced David Quinn as coach after last season and has expertly shepherded the Rangers' dramatic turnaround. ”We just want to keep playing well."
With the victory, the Rangers moved into a first-place tie with idle Carolina with 106 points atop the Metropolitan Division. Both teams have five games remaining, including another meeting at Madison Square Garden next Tuesday.
“We want to finish first,'' Gallant added. ”We'll take it one game at a time and see what happens."
The Rangers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games against Winnipeg. They also beat the Jets 4-1 in Winnipeg on March 6. The contest was the first Garden visit for the Jets since Oct. 3, 2019, a 6-4 win for the Rangers in that season’s home opener.
“The score isn't really reflective of the game that we played,'' Jets interim coach Dave Lowry said. ”We had good zone time and did a good job defending. I thought we played a real solid game and deserved a better fate."
The Rangers improved to 26-8-4 at Madison Square Garden and 9-3-1 in their last 13 home games. New York has allowed just 83 goals at home, second-fewest in the league behind Carolina’s 82.
They have permitted one or fewer goals in six of their last seven contests, including four shutouts. Shesterkin also blanked Pittsburgh 3-0 at home on April 7.
“It's a credit to our goalies. We are playing good hockey and the guys are buying in,'' added Strome, whose 19 goals ties his career high. “Three straight shutouts, it's pretty impressive.”
NOTES: The Rangers finished with a 17-11-4 record against Western Conference opponents ... Rangers forward Ryan Reaves played his 750th career game. … The Rangers were without injured forwards Kaapo Kakko and Tyler Motte. … New York also scratched forwards Greg McKegg, Julien Gauthier and Jonny Brodzinski, plus defensemen Libor Hajek and Justin Braun. … The Jets scratched their starting goaltender Connor Hellebuyck with a non-Covid 19 related illness plus forwards Mark Scheifele and Adam Brooks and defenseman Dylan Samberg. ... Winnipeg last missed the playoffs in a normal season in 2016-17.
Rangers: Visit Islanders on Thursday.
Jets: Visit Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday to complete a six-game trip.
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Allan Kreda, The Associated Press