When examining the goaltending in the preliminary series that begins this Saturday, all one has to do is point to the outstanding play of rookie Igor Shesterkin. After coming up from Hartford in January, the Rangers net became his to lose.
That’s how well the poised 24-year old Russian netminder played. In 12 starts, he went 10-2-0 with a 2.52 goals-against-average (GAA) and .932 save percentage. Four of those victories saw him make over 40 saves including 44 against the Sharks. He also made 46 in his second career start versus the Devils. The only opponent who scored over three against him in a rematch when Shesterkin returned from an injury sustained in a car accident.
To his credit, he recovered quickly by stopping 31 of 33 shots in a victory over the Stars. One opponent he did face was the Rangers upcoming one on August 1. He defeated the Hurricanes in Raleigh by stopping 27 shots on Feb. 21. The other three victories in the season series came from Henrik Lundqvist. However, he’ll be the backup when things kick off in Toronto. Not a bad option if something changes.
For coach David Quinn, it’s an easy decision to go with Igor. He’s given him no reason not to. Once Shesterkin arrived, the Rangers season changed. They got the key saves and their confidence grew. This isn’t about what Lundqvist or Alex Georgiev didn’t do. They weren’t as consistent. The team had a lot more success after Igor arrived. It showed in their improvement that had them within two points of the wildcard when play was paused due to COVID-19.
In the unique best of five preliminary series, the first two games will be back-to-back this weekend. I’ve seen some people suggest going back to Lundqvist for Game Two. That should be a last resort. If Shesterkin performs well, he should play. However, it’s imperative that the team wins that first game. That could be a factor in what Quinn determines.
Personally, I feel most comfortable with Shesterkin as the Rangers goalie. He’s proven capable and been unflappable. He has a calm demeanor and presence that rubs off on teammates. That allowed them to play their game and have a strong finish to the regular season.
Unless there’s a hiccup, there’s no debate. Even with Lundqvist playing his best versus a team he’s owned, it’s Igor’s net to lose. Let him get the experience. This is how it’s going to be over the long term. The franchise has a bright future ahead with the former 2014 fourth round gem taken number 118.
Whatever they decide in the off-season regarding Lundqvist and Georgiev is on the back burner. Right now, they’re all in on a big opportunity. Advance to the Stanley Cup best of seven phase and anything can happen. The focus is on Carolina.
It’ll be exciting for fans, who have missed the Blueshirts these past few months. This will be unlike any postseason we’ve seen. Following tomorrow’s tuneup against the Islanders, it all starts up for real on Saturday. Get ready.