A night to remember for Shesterkin and Rangers

Igor Shesterkin gets some love from Henrik Lundqvist after his first NHL win. The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 5-3 at The Garden. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

The chants were different this time at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t the familiar “Hen-rik, Hen-rik!”, we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Instead, Ranger fans serenaded rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin with “Igor, Igor!”, chants in what amounted to an exciting 5-3 home win over the Avalanche.

On a night to remember, the 24-year old Russian netminder showed a unflappable mental fortitude after giving up two early Colorado goals on their first three shots. Neither were his fault. Another kid with a bright future, Adam Fox made a mistake that resulted in Hart candidate Nathan MacKinnon converting a mini break by finding the five-hole on Shesterkin for a 2-0 Avalanche lead.

How would he respond to the early adversity against one of the West’s best teams? Just fine. For the remainder of his first NHL game in a complex three goalie roster that the Rangers will worry about, Shesterkin stopped 28 of the next 29 shots to win his first start. He didn’t have to be spectacular. But was there when they needed him. Shesterkin made 13 saves in a busy third period to finish with 29 altogether.

Following Wonder Bread Man Artemi Panarin sealing it with an empty net goal from a brilliant Jesper Fast (3 assists), Igor received a nice moment when backup Lundqvist came over to congratulate him on his first victory. Hopefully, the first of many for the composed goalie the Rangers stole in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

For some fans like this one above, it was Lundqvist that made them a fan of the Blueshirts. If you’ve been around longer due to living in the Big Apple like myself, you understand better. Nothing lasts forever. This franchise has had their share of goalies who were special. From almost its inception, the Broadway Blueshirts have boasted great goalies throughout nearly a century of history. Names such as Lorne Chabot, Dave Kerr, Gump Worsley, Chuck Rayner and Ed Giacomin have been the guardians of the galaxy.

Even all-time great Terry Sawchuk finished his career on Broadway. Gilles Villemure shared a Vezina with Giacomin in ’70-71. When Eddie was placed on waivers by Emile “Cat” Francis, he opposed the Rangers as a Red Wing on a unforgettable night where fans chanted, “Edd-ie, Edd-ie, Edd-ie!” John Davidson took over and carried the team to the Stanley Cup Final in ’79.

Eventually, John Vanbiesbrouck became the next great goalie winning the Vezina in his second full season while backstopping the ’85-86 team to the Wales Conference Final. Beezer would share the net with Mike Richter for a few years before becoming part of the expansion Panthers. The Rangers wisely held onto Richter, who would bring the franchise its greatest moment as the unflappable goalie who was unbelievable during their fourth Stanley Cup in ’93-94. He would pass Giacomin for the most wins in franchise history and wind up with 301.

It took a few years until Lundqvist grabbed the mantle to become the next great Ranger goalie. He owns almost every franchise mark including wins (458), shutouts (63), games played (881), saves (23,414) and minutes played (51,577). He has a career 2.43 goals-against-average (GAA) and .918 save percentage. All kidding aside, nobody can dispute what King Henrik has achieved. A Vezina winner in ’11-12, the only thing missing is a Cup. Unfortunately, the window passed. We’ll always be left wondering about 2014 and 2015. That’s how close those teams were. 2012 will always sting.

With Lundqvist now 37 and turning 38 soon with one year remaining on his contract, the time has come for Shesterkin. Whether you spell it that way or Shestyorkin, it’s his turn to grab the keys. That’s how it works in sports. Nobody lasts forever. Even the great Martin Brodeur concluded his career in an odd St. Louis Blues jersey that never quite fit. If he chooses to stick around for 500 wins, it’ll likely be in another jersey for the prideful Henrik.

What they have to feel good about is how composed Shesterkin was following an odd redirect goal from JT Compher and MacKinnon doing what he does. He made a big save on a Colorado power play with Jacob Trouba off for interference. It was a point blank opportunity that he denied.

By that point, the resurgent Chris Kreider had gotten one back with a neat redirect of a Ryan Strome pass for a power play goal. Following a successful penalty kill, it was Mika Zibanejad who was able to beat Colorado starter Philipp Grubauer thanks to some strong work from Fast and good playmaking from Tony DeAngelo (2 assists). Zibanejad got his 17th to tie the score. He was brilliant throughout going 1-1-2 with superb penalty killing along with face-off dominance (17-for-23) while logging 25:32. Zibanejad deserves to be the next captain.

Then, we had some nastiness when rookie Ryan Lindgren caught an unsuspecting Joonas Donskoi with a ferocious hit against the boards that knocked him silly. Before play could be whistled down, Lindgren received a beat down from Nazem Kadri, who bloodied him with a fistful of rights to the face. Neither Lindgren (upper body) nor Donskoi (upper body) returned.

I had no real issue with what Kadri did. He got the instigator for dropping the gloves first to stand up for a injured fallen teammate. Even though I tend to frown upon players fighting over clean checks like the one Lindgren delivered that flattened Donskoi, I understand why Kadri did what he did. It had no real effect on the rest of the game.

The Rangers didn’t score on the power play. However, they had the better of the play. In particular, the recently formed third line of Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Kaapo Kakko. Since Brendan Lemieux went down with a fractured hand, Howden has been shifted off center to the left wing by coach David Quinn. He’s looked much better on the wing while playing with Kakko, who seems to be more effective on the third line centered by the improving Chytil. In fact, Howden hit a post and nearly set up Trouba for a goal if he hit the net. When Lemieux returns, I’d keep Howden where he is.

Playing for the second straight night after being shutout 1-0 by the Islanders, Colorado looked a bit off. They weren’t as sharp, showing some wear and tear in the second game of a back-to-back. However, part of that was due to how the Blueshirts played. They had a hard forecheck for once by controlling puck possession and cycling effectively. Appreciative fans responded with cheers for the effort. This was a welcome change for a team that normally struggles at even strength.

Following a near miss shorthanded on a terrific set up from Zibanejad, Brady Skjei scored his sixth on a good point shot that came off some splendid work from Panarin and Fox. The much critiqued left defenseman played arguably his finest game of the season. Paired with Trouba, Skjei logged 27:12 while doing a good job against the dangerous Colorado line of MacKinnon, Mikka Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They actually limited their scoring chances by taking time and space away. It was a refreshing change.

Perhaps having Shesterkin debut energized a team that needed a win in the worst way following a 0-3 road trip at Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. They deserved a better fate against the Canucks, but Alexandar Georgiev allowed Tyler Myers winner late. He was a healthy scratch. With three goalies, someone has to sit in the press box for now. Strange. But with the Rangers unable to send down Georgiev without passing through waivers, this is the current situation.

Despite playing well for Shesterkin, a hiccup allowed Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky to work the puck over to a vacated Compher for his second to again tie the score at three at 11:32. DeAngelo went the wrong way and no forward covered for him. Those kind of miscues are still gonna happen from time to time. The defense and forwards must get on the same page.

However, a key face-off win by Strome led directly to him finishing off a Fast pass that Panarin (goal and two apples) helped set up for a 4-3 lead 2:07 later. That line combined for eight points after taking the collar the last two games.

With Strome in the penalty box for interfering with forgotten former Blueshirt prospect Ryan Graves, Shesterkin came up big by denying a golden opportunity in tight with a quick pad save. He stopped three Colorado shots on that power play. As the game went on, he got stronger. That included flashing his butterfly like glove to the crowd’s delight. His rebound control was excellent.

An errant hi-stick from Calder hopeful Cale Makar to Pavel Buchnevich gave the Blueshirts one more man-advantage. But they were unable to cash in. As fate would have it, it came down to the frantic final few minutes for Shesterkin. He passed with flying colors.

So too did the team due to doing a good job protecting the house. They kept most of the Avalanche shots to the outside. It was a strong effort without Lindgren, who missed the remainder of the game following his dust up with Kadri. Quinn used Brendan Smith for some shifts on defense. But he leaned heavily on workhorses Skjei and Trouba.

With Grubauer off for an extra attacker, eventually Fast made a smart defensive play to get the puck out of harms way to Zibanejad, who dished it for Panarin. He exited the Ranger zone and took his time before firing his team best 23rd into the open net for the final margin.

It was a nice way to end a good game. A memorable one for Shesterkin. He was also presented the Broadway Hat in the locker room. Welcome to the show, kid!

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers (29 saves on 32 shots including 28 of last 29 for 1st career NHL win in debut)

2nd 🌟 Jesper Fast, Rangers (3 🍎, +3 in 17:43)

1st 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (empty net goal for 23rd plus 2 🍎, 8 shots, +3 in 19:07)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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