NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider is so hot these days, even shots that go off his body are finding their way into the net.
The only spoiler in his second hat trick in five games was a scary leg injury that led to goaltender Igor Shesterkin being helped off the ice late in the third period.
Kreider extended his goal-scoring binge to nine in the last six games and the Rangers beat the slumping New Jersey Devils 6-1 on Thursday night.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Rangers coach David Quinn, who team has been without top forward Artemi Panarin for five games. “So, you know, he’s is a vocal leader. He’s playing physical. He’s playing hard at both ends and getting rewarded with some timely goals. It could not come at a better time for our team.”
Kreider, who scored three in a loss to Philadelphia on Feb. 24, has 13 goals overall. He completed his natural hat trick 23 seconds into the final period after scoring twice in the second. His fourth career hat trick came on five shots.
Shesterkin seemed to hurt his right leg with just under six minutes to play when he stretched to stop a 2-on-1 break and shot by Damon Severson. He went down without contact and had to helped off the ice, dragging the leg.
Quinn didn't have an update on the goaltender's injury after the game, except to say it was lower body. Alexandar Georgiev finished the game.
Shesterkin kept the Rangers in the game in the first period by stopping 13 of 14 shots. He finished with 32 saves in helping the Rangers win their second straight and their fifth in seven.
Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Smith and Alexis Lafreniere also scored for New York.
Jack Hughes scored early for the Devils, who have lost four straight and seven of eight. It was his third goal against New York in as many games. Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 11 of 15 shots before being lifted. Aaron Dell finished up.
Kreider tied the game at 8:58 on a great power-play rush. In quick succession. Adam Fox, Buchnevich and Ryan Strome connected on up-ice passes with Strome finding Kreider alone in front.
“Listen, the guy is hot, you get them the puck, and he’s obviously feeling it," Strome said. “He’s got timely goals, big goals. And, you know, there’s such a short season that these games are so important and moments like that and plays like that from a veteran player lift everyone up. He was great tonight.”
Kreider didn't even get his stick on his next goal. A point shot by Ryan Lindgren bounced off his body into the net. The big winger made it 3-1 with an shot into the top of the net on an odd man rush.
Most of his goals lately have been scored from his office in front of the net.
“I think that’s something that I was harped on early on in my career,” Kreider said. “A simple, simple job. Not always, not always super easy when you’re battling a front, but relatively simple. It takes a lot of hard work from the guys you’re playing with and a willingness to get pucks there. I’m just trying to stick around the front of the net and it’s working for us right now. ”
After playing a great first period, the Devils were not the same team the final 40 minutes.
“Right now we just have to find a way to get a win and we have to really bear down, we have to pay a price, we’re not going to get an easy goal or hope for bounces, we can’t hope for a play,” veteran Travis Zajac said. “We just have to go in and really earn it for 60 minutes.”
Forward Kaapo Kakko and defenseman Jacob Trouba took part in the morning skate and coach David Quinn said both are close to returning to the lineup.
Including Thursday, Kakko has missed the last six games because of the COVID-19 protocol. Trouba has missed seven games with a broken thumb.
Forward Artemi Panarin is also closer to returning, Quinn said. The Russian has missed five games while on a leave of absence after a Russian tabloid printed allegations from a former coach that he attacked an 18-year-old woman in Latvia in 2011.
NOTES: Vatanen got his first point in nine games with assist on Hughes' goal. ... New Jersey had not given up a power-play goal in its last three games before Kreider connected. Lafreniere has goals in two straight.
Rangers: This was the start of a six-game trip, which would be tied for the ninth-longest stretch of consecutive road games in franchise history.
Devils: New Jersey is 0-4 on the current five-game homestand. It is 2-8-1 at home.
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