Shesterkin’s key save turned the game around for Rangers in comeback win over Hurricanes

In the playoffs, sometimes it comes down to the goalie. When they came back to defeat the Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division Final last year, Igor Shesterkin was a big reason why.

A Vezina winner last season, he ultimately proved to be the difference in leading the Rangers to victories in Games Six and Seven of the hardly fought second round series. While Antti Raanta finally cracked in those games, Shesterkin delivered when it mattered the most.

During Thursday night’s game in Raleigh, he again reminded the Caniacs why he’s one of the game’s best goalies. Having played much better lately, Shesterkin helped keep his team in the rematch between the budding rivals.

After the Canes played an outstanding third period by getting three past Shesterkin in a come from behind 3-2 win at MSG on Tuesday night, they got off to a fast start in the second game of a home and home series.

The hitting was fast and furious between both sides. Carolina tried to use physicality to their advantage. They finished every check. The Rangers didn’t back down. A Jimmy Vesey hit on Jack Drury was part of the fun. Brent Burns caught Filip Chytil with a hard check.

Drury cross-checked Tyler Motte to take a penalty halfway through the first period. Only eleven seconds later, Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal was nabbed for a delay of game penalty. That gave the lifeless Blueshirts a long five-on-three. For 1:49, they had the chance to convert on the power play.

Instead, shots either went off the goalpost (Zibanejad) or missed wide. Even with coach Gerard Gallant opting to load up his top unit again with a five-man unit that featured Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane, Chris Kreider and Adam Fox, they couldn’t take advantage.

Frederik Andersen also came up with a few key saves to keep the game scoreless. The most frustrating part was seeing a loaded power play get quality looks but fail to connect. You had Fox try a hard pass for Kane that he couldn’t gather in. Kane then fired wide. So did Panarin on a frustrating two-man advantage.

Following a successful kill of an Alexis Lafreniere minor penalty, a good lead pass from Martin Necas sent Sebastian Aho into the Rangers zone. With the defense backing in, Aho made a nice toe drag before firing home his 31st to give the Hurricanes the lead at 16:47.

On the play, both Fox and Jacob Trouba were too far back. The forwards didn’t make it hard for Aho, who had easy access to come in and pick his spot. If there’s a glaring issue, it’s the Rangers continuing the trend of backing up. That makes it easier for opponents to score off the rush. It’s something that’ll need to be corrected before the playoffs start in April.

The Hurricanes played a strong first period, using their speed to get in on the forecheck and possess the puck. They held a big territorial edge in play. Not shockingly, they out-shot the Rangers 13-3.

Shesterkin made a dozen saves with many coming during the first part of the period. He was sharp throughout. He would finish the game with 29 saves en route to winning his 33rd game in game number 52. Aside from the loss he had on Tuesday to these Canes, Shesterkin has won six of his last seven starts. Over that stretch, he’s posted a 1.84 GAA and .942 save percentage.

After they killed off a holding minor on Zibanejad that carried over into the second period, Shesterkin made a couple of more saves, including denying a Staal deflection. At that point, shots favored the Canes by a 15-3 margin.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi had Chytil lined up at center ice for a big hit. Good thing Chytil saw it and protected himself. He still got accidentally clipped by the skate of Kotkaniemi. Play was stopped for a potential injury. Fortunately, it wasn’t top bad. Chytil was able to stay in the game. He didn’t miss a shift.

The first good sign of the period was a strong drive from Vladimir Tarasenko, where he bulled his way to the net, forcing Andersen into a tough save on a backhand. He went around Burns, who took him down for a holding penalty.

But the power play didn’t get much done. Vincent Trocheck was stopped by Andersen, who’d later knock him down when the former Hurricane was standing in front. Part of what makes Trocheck a good player. The second unit featured him with Chytil, Lafreniere, Tarasenko, and Trouba.

With his team still not up to speed, Shesterkin took matters into his own hands. After stopping Drury moments earlier, he got over to rob Jesse Puljujarvi of a sure goal on a good feed from Derek Stepan. It was a pass across for a quick one-timer. But Shesterkin made the key save to prevent the Hurricanes from going up by two.

That clutch save finally woke the Rangers up. Shesterkin’s brilliance energized his teammates. Following Andersen denying a Chytil chance, Tarasenko made a good drop pass for Zibanejad, which led to him finding Panarin wide open for the tying goal at 10:33. The goal was the fourth for Panarin in four games. He’s up to 24. He has nine points over the last half dozen games. It’s 13 (5-8-13) over the past nine.

Right after Panarin tied the game, Shesterkin denied a Drury bid to keep it at 1-1. He would also make a good save on Stefan Noesen when the Canes were on a power play due to K’Andre Miller going off for hooking Necas. He made 12 more saves in the second.

Late in the period, a nice rush from Niko Mikkola nearly led to Panarin getting his second. However, Andersen made two nice saves, including a second one on a tricky backhand to keep the game tied.

Mikkola continues to be a key defenseman for the Rangers. He was included in the Tarasenko deal with the Blues. With Ryan Lindgren back out of the lineup, Mikkola stepped up by playing on the first pair with Fox. He logged 19:37 in 24 shifts with three hits and a plus-one rating.

That trade is looking better and better. Tarasenko has played more of a two-way game since settling in on Zibanejad’s right side. He’s also been willing to finish checks and absorb hits. It’s been his overall play that’s stood out. So far, he’s been a better player than Kane, who’s been hit or miss. They got him for the postseason. I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.

When the second period concluded, the Rangers had eight shots. They played much better following that momentum turning Shesterkin save on Puljujarvi. Overall, the Canes still led in shots, 25 to 11.

By the time the third period began, it felt like a different game. Thanks to the goaltending of Shesterkin, the Rangers weathered the storm. In this case, it was a hurricane. Their fans are loud in PNC Arena. But the Rangers had their own contingent who live in the area as well.

It had a similar feel to some of the games they’ve won against Carolina. The Rangers seem very comfortable playing in that building. We saw it when they easily took the deciding Game Seven last year. It showed in a third period eruption that was highlighted by Panarin’s first four-goal game on Feb. 11. A game that went from 2-1 Hurricanes to 6-2, Rangers.

Following a miss by Jesper Fast, Panarin had a tip-in go wide. Aho also missed his own tip-in afterward. This all happened in the first 75 seconds.

Trocheck came close to breaking the tie. Following a face-off, he had his shot hit the goalpost and stay out. That close to burning his former team.

Finally, on a play in transition started by Zibanejad up to Panarin, he found Fox in the slot for a shot that beat Andersen to give the Blueshirts a 2-1 lead at 4:01. It was a perfect read by Panarin. Fox scored his first goal in 25 games since Jan. 23.

Although he doesn’t always shoot to score, Fox has a six-game point streak with a goal and five assists. He’s up to 65 points (11-54-65) in 72 games. Last year, he had 74 points (11-63-74) in 78 games.

Both Kakko and Lafreniere had great opportunities to extend the lead. First, Kakko tried a wrap-around that Andersen denied. On another shift, Lafreniere was in on the Hurricanes goalie but had his backhand stopped. Andersen made the key saves to keep his team afloat in the third.

Unlike the previous two periods, there weren’t a lot of shots. The Rangers defended much better. Once they got the lead, they did a good job protecting it. Whether it was continuing to forecheck or blocking shots, they didn’t give up much.

Carolina could only muster five shots. None that seriously threatened Shesterkin. They lifted Andersen for an extra attacker with 100 seconds left. It didn’t matter.

That’s how well the Rangers played. Gallant trusted his checking forwards with Barclay Goodrow, Motte, and Vesey out for most of the final couple of shifts. Zibanejad was also used. Trocheck took the final draw as the Rangers earned their third victory in four games to win the season series.

Shesterkin was the biggest reason they won. He held them in there. That allowed the Rangers to find their game. Once they did, it was their skill players who were in on the two goals. They out-skilled the Canes, who definitely showed their biggest weakness without injured forwards Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov.

The Canes still sit atop the Metro with 100 points. They have a dozen games left. Two more than the Rangers, who have 94 with 10 games remaining. They are third, trailing the Devils for second by four. They’re in action later tonight against the Sabres.

With every save a more confident Shesterkin makes, the better the Rangers’ chances are. He’s still the x-factor. The Hurricanes’ storm was put out by Igor.


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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