Game #54 Shesterkin stops 42 to outduel Quick, Fil and Phil two assists each, Kakko scores to highlight 4-2 Rangers win over Kings


Igor! Igor! Rookie Igor Shesterkin acknowledges the fans following 42 saves to grab the game’s first star in a Rangers 4-1 win over Winnipeg. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

It’s always interesting to see how a team will respond to a bad loss. It’s no secret that they were far from good enough on Friday night versus the Sabres. Tonight, the Rangers had a better response thanks in large part to great goaltending from rookie Igor Shesterkin. He finished with 42 saves to outduel Jonathan Quick in a 4-1 win over the Kings at Madison Square Garden.

Making his sixth start (all at home), the maturing 24-year old Russian netminder showed plenty of poise and extreme focus in improving to 5-1-0 so far. He’s really setting the bar high. That’s the sign of a physically gifted goalie who looks ready to grab the mantle from Henrik Lundqvist. When they needed him, Shesterkin was there to make the key stops. That included 25 the first two periods with some nice ones on a Kings power play in a busy second.

Shesterkin was at his best in the third. Even though they don’t possess a lot of weapons outside of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, the Kings came hard in search of the equalizer prior to Kaapo Kakko scoring a beauty from Filip Chytil and Phil Di Giuseppe. That erased a 13 game drought for the improving Kakko, who picked up his third point in four games. Prior to that, he’d gone 10 straight without a point since a goal and assist effort at Calgary on Jan. 2. His confidence is growing.

It’s these kind of positives that has Ryan Strome excited. He ended a three game scoreless drought by picking up a primary assist on an Artemi Panarin goal that came with 2:48 left in regulation to put the game away. Jesper Fast made the key defensive play to get the puck out to Strome for a two-on-one. He made a smart decision shooting low on Quick for the rebound right out to Panarin, who deposited it for his team-leading 28th. It was his first goal in five games since Jan. 31 versus Detroit.

Listening to Strome’s assessment on how sometimes goals can be hard to come by, he’s right. It isn’t an exact science. You can create a glorious chance only to be robbed by a hot goalie while later on, a teammate gets a nice bounce to score. What I really like is what he said about getting contributions throughout the lineup. He gave credit to the two Phils. In this case, Fil and Phil with both Chytil and Di Giuseppe having two assists on an improved third line. Let’s give Di Giuseppe credit as his skating and aggression has been a good fit thus far. It was the 26-year old journeyman’s first two points in his fourth game. A nice reward for a guy who works hard.

The win was also a milestone of sorts for Chytil, who recorded his first two assist game. It took him a while. In career game number 129, the 20-year old forward took a step in the right direction. For the season, he’s up to 12 goals and eight assists giving him 20 points in 45 games. The dozen markers are a new career high. He needs three points to match his career best of 23 from ’18-19. He went 11-12-23 over 75 games last season. He knows that’s how they have to play to be successful.

With Shesterkin delivering his second 40 save or more performance in six starts to join elite company above, it looks like coach David Quinn is leaning towards sticking with him for Tuesday at Winnipeg. If he does, it would be riding the hot hand while giving Shesterkin a new experience on the road. Plus it would be another good test against a playoff team that boasts some lethal weapons. Winnipeg plays a similar style to Toronto due to a talent pool that includes Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers. Plus old friend Neal Pionk leading the offense from the back end.

He definitely is going to get one of these big three road games that also includes a visit to Minnesota and a back-to-back in Columbus to conclude the trip. That’s three games over four days before returning home for Boston next Sunday. There’s also this telling quote from Quinn on the emerging rookie backstop.

If that doesn’t tell you what’s up, I don’t know what will. Igor continues to get better while receiving more “Ig-or, Ig-or!”, chants from the appreciative crowd. At one point, I had the ESPN Radio feed on. As the fans supported Shesterkin during a stoppage with the new chant, Dave Maloney was quick to note how that used to be for Henrik Lundqvist. He still gets the “Hen-rik, Hen-rik!”, chants from the same crowd. It’s just not as common. So, while I get what Maloney was saying while adding, “How quickly some forget,” I’m going to respectfully disagree with Maloney on this one.

It’s not that we’ve forgotten what Henrik has meant to the franchise. For over a decade, he was the man carrying the teams to the playoffs and beyond with some memories The Garden will never forget. I was in the building for his huge elimination games against Ottawa and Washington. I was also there for what he did in Game Six while again staring at elimination against the Penguins during that stirring 3-1 second round comeback that was inspired by Martin St. Louis. As huge as he was in scoring that first goal on Mother’s Day when the building shook, Lundqvist shut the door by allowing only three goals the final three games. Pittsburgh never led again after Game Four.

It was Lundqvist, who was there to make a ridiculous acrobatic save on Thomas Vanek in Game Six which led to Dominic Moore scoring the series clincher from Brian Boyle to shutout the Canadiens 1-0. One of the greatest moments ever. It’s hard to believe we were there when they won the Wales Trophy and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. That series was heartbreaking for everyone. No wonder I can’t stand the Queens Kings. But I am a fan of Jonathan Quick, who grew up a Ranger fan.

There was the unbelievable 3-1 miracle to stun Braden Holtby and the Caps in the same round in 2015. Lundqvist had a lot to do with it. But he needed a little help from his friends in Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and ultimate hero Derek Stepan. If only it didn’t end so somberly against Tampa. I don’t blame the goalie. I still think Alain Vigneault got outcoached and didn’t make enough adjustments despite a battered defense. You cannot get shutout at home in Games Five and Seven. What a bizarre series. I knew they were winning Game Six. Ask my Dad and brother.

Look. We can’t go back anymore. These were truly great moments along with Lundqvist winning the Vezina and Olympic gold. He has the franchise marks in minutes played, games, starts, wins, shutouts, etc. Number 30 won’t be forgotten despite how tough I’ve been in this space. I appreciate everything he gave this team. He wore the jersey proudly. But even he has to know by now what’s up. He said it himself a week ago when he finally got that shutout at Detroit. It feels good to contribute. He’s a competitor. Nobody likes to sit on the sidelines wearing a ball cap.

If Alex Georgiev really isn’t going anywhere, then what’s the point of Lundqvist staying? So he can get a start or two every three weeks. I’ve heard fans say how good he is as a mentor. Do they realize this team has the best goalie coach in the league? Benoit Allaire deserves so much credit for what he’s done. And Shesterkin is 24. Not 19 or 20 like Carter Hart. He’s played professionally and had lots of success. He’s mature enough to handle it and is fundamentally sound. It kind of reminds me of a young Henrik when he finally came over in 2005. He was a proven winner for Frolunda. It’s eerily similar.

There. Now that I’ve said my piece, maybe finally fans and even some critical friends can understand that I’m not some spoiled fan who takes things for granted. I enjoyed all of Lundqvist’s success. The past two to three years have been sad and depressing for fans to watch. Some can’t accept it. I’m the same person who ripped Mark Messier II because as thankful as I was for 1994, he blocked players from developing and took up too much responsibility. Or did you forget how Glen Sather paid Bobby Holik $9 million a year to be their checking center? What a joke that was. Jamie Lundmark was shafted. He still should’ve had a better NHL career once he escaped New York. It was like Jason to young prospects back then. Or did you forget what became of Jozef Balej following his memorable setup on Messier’s final goal versus the Sabres?

We sometimes need a dose of reality when it comes to things. That includes our favorite athletes and sports teams. I’m a realist. If Lundqvist told John Davidson and Jeff Gorton that he would be open to a trade by waiving the NMC to take one last shot at winning elsewhere, I wouldn’t hold it against him. Loyalty can be blind. Mats Sundin went through the same thing in Toronto. He refused to let the Leafs trade him. Eventually, he turned up with the Canucks the next year. They lost with him and he retired. Maybe Henrik should have a chat with his Swedish friend.

On March 2, the King turns 38. He’s not getting any younger. Not playing only hurts him more. It’s like what Martin Brodeur recently told Larry Brooks in an interview. Goalies like Lundqvist must play to find a rhythm. The three goalie system doesn’t help. He should go. But any trade with that contract would be complicated. He’s got another $8.5 million cap hit through next year. They’d have to pick up a huge chunk.

All this Lundqvist talk is tough. But I had to do it. The reality is Shesterkin looks ready to be that guy. If Georgiev can back up, that’s two very affordable contracts minus most of what they pay Hank. You’re talking about freeing up the necessary space to keep Chris Kreider and retain Strome as well as Tony DeAngelo. It’s worth it. Plus Tyler Wall is coming. Goalie is the least of this team’s concerns.

So is defense despite the flawed rhetoric on it which really is due to Brady No ‘D’ Skjei and Jacob Trouba. Adam Fox is an ace and Ryan Lindgren is old school. DeAngelo is a offensive machine with amazing vision. Marc Staal is done after next year. Nils Lundkvist is coming and K’andre Miller will be closer. Matthew Robertson is probably at least two years away. Would they take a look at Joey Keane? What about forgotten man Libor Hajek? They are going to have options.

If you’re looking at the forwards, we only are sure on Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Kreider or Fast. Pavel Buchnevich is at best a 50 point guy who is an adventure. Kakko will only get better and fulfill expectations as he gets stronger and faster. He’s got the tools. We don’t know yet on Vitali Kravtsov, who we should see by late March or April. They don’t want to burn a year off his ELC.

No. We don’t know enough about Lauri Pajunemi either despite his impressive season back home. Brendan Lemieux is what he is. A guy you can plug anywhere who agitates with his physical style that will take on all comers. But he’s a third liner at best. Probably better suited for the fourth line like Brett Howden. I’d like to see Lemieux kill penalties. Chytil looks more like a wing than center due to his defensive issues and inconsistency on face-offs. I believe he can get 30 goals as a wing. But who else plays center? It’s already weak even with Zibanejad and Strome ‘if’ he stays.

I pretty much have assessed the roster here. Screw the conventional recap. Nobody needs to know that Greg McKegg scored his third goal to open the scoring. The Keg Man is what he is. A part timer that is better suited for the role he had with the Hurricanes. He shouldn’t play daily on the fourth line. I do respect his work ethic. He’s a pro. Micheal Haley had surgery to repair an injury. Whatever. He’s not part of the future. Best of luck elsewhere.

Brendan Smith should just be off the roster. There’s no longer a point. He’s another high character veteran that I respect the hell out of. How many players would play a dual role as a fourth liner and double as a penalty killing defenseman? That’s commendable. It didn’t work out the way anyone envisioned after he came over and helped them advance over Montreal.

As disappointed as I was that Skjei cost Shesterkin a first shutout due to whatever the hell he was doing on former Leaf Trevor Moore’s goal that cut it to 2-1 with 9:13 remaining in regulation, at least Shesterkin didn’t let it bother him. He made the saves to keep it there until Fast cleared the puck out for the Strome and Panarin two-on-one rush with the Bread Man rebounding home a Strome shot past Quick at 17:12 to erase any doubt.

Chytil calmly got the puck over for DeAngelo in the middle so he could fire it down for his lucky 13th with 2:11 remaining. It was a good night. Even if it was far from perfect, the Rangers responded well. They’re now up to 58 points and 24 regulation wins with 28 left. Nine points out.

They’ll now test themselves on the road against three hungry teams chasing the playoffs. It’ll be Trouba’s return to Winnipeg on Tuesday. How will he be received? I’m sure there will be a video tribute and a mixture of cheers and jeers. He wanted to leave, but also was too expensive for them to keep. They haven’t missed him. It’s ironic that Neal Pionk has been better. However, his role is different. Let’s be fair.

I’m looking forward to this game. Winnipeg has one of the loudest arenas in the league and great fans. There should be plenty of energy. They won a big game tonight 5-2 over the Blackhawks. That puts them up to 63 points as the first wildcard a point up on the Flames.

If it is Shesterkin versus Connor Hellebuyck, even better.

Battle of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Filip Chytil, Rangers (first career 2 assist game, 4 shots, +2 in 11:24)

2nd 🌟 Jonathan Quick, Kings (37 saves including some gems to keep his team in it)

1st 🌟 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers (42 saves on 44 shots to improve to 5-1-0)

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 New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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