Rangers’ Shesterkin Showing Mental Toughness in Playoffs

The New York Rangers relied heavily on Igor Shesterkin in goal this season to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. However, after a bad start to the postseason in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the star goalie responded with excellent performances late in the series and in New York’s second-round matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Shesterkin’s Play Against the Penguins

During Game 1 against the Penguins, Shesterkin turned in a stellar performance even though the Penguins outplayed the Rangers. The third period ended with the score tied at three after the Blueshirts had a goal called back with a few minutes remaining in regulation.

In overtime, the Rangers wore down and Pittsburgh generated far more scoring chances but Shesterkin gave them a chance to win. He controlled rebounds and stopped shot after shot before the Penguins finally broke through on Evgeni Malkin’s deflection in the third overtime. He ended up stopping 79 of 83 shots in the loss.

Shesterkin bounced back in Game 2, stopping 39 of 41 shots, including a few clutch glove saves with New York clinging to a one-goal lead in the third period. The Rangers went on to win 5-2 but struggled in their next two games in Pittsburgh.

During Game 3 and Game 4, Shesterkin let in a few soft goals as he was caught out of position and allowed a few on shots from bad angles. He got pulled in both games and the Rangers lost each one in lopsided fashion while the Pittsburgh crowd sarcastically chanted “Igor.”

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin overcame early struggles in the postseason to lead the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

However, with New York facing elimination and Shesterkin facing heavy criticism, he started playing like a star once again. In the third period of Game 5, he stopped all 15 shots he faced despite lots of traffic in front of the net and relentless pressure from Pittsburgh in a 5-3 Rangers victory.

In Game 6, Shesterkin made a brilliant pass up the middle to spring Mika Zibanejad on a breakaway and Chris Kreider scored on Zibanejad’s rebound. Additionally, Shesterkin stopped all eight shots in the third period in another 5-3 victory for the Blueshirts.

The Penguins got key players Sidney Crosby, Rickard Rackell, and Tristan Jarry back in their lineup for Game 7, and they generated a lot of scoring chances but Shesterkin kept the Rangers in the game. He made two sprawling saves with his team trailing 3-2 before Zibanejad scored to tie the game. He stopped 39 of 42 shots in total, including all 12 in the third period as well as both shots he faced in overtime before Artemi Panarin scored the game-winning goal.

Shesterkin’s Play Against the Hurricanes

While the Rangers once again struggled early in their second-round matchup with the Hurricanes, Shesterkin played very well. He allowed just one goal in regulation during Game 1 before Ryan Lindgren accidentally deflected a shot from the point into his own net in overtime. Shesterkin allowed just one goal on 21 shots in Game 2 but the Rangers got shut out and fell behind 2-0 in the series.

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The Rangers got back into it thanks to the strong play of Shesterkin as he stopped 43 of 44 shots in a 3-1 Game 3 victory. They had to hold on to a one-goal lead for almost the entire third period, as the Hurricanes had two power-play opportunities in the final frame. New York’s star goalie made a couple of clutch saves on deflections and stopped Andrei Svechnikov from right in front of the net before Tyler Motte’s empty-net goal put the game away.

Shesterkin followed up his brilliant performance in Game 3 with another strong performance in Game 4, stopping 30 of 31 shots in a 4-1 victory. The Rangers lost Game 5 as Carolina dominated at home but the Blueshirts bounced back in Game 6 thanks to another stellar performance by their goaltender.

Shesterkin took his play to another level with the Rangers facing elimination. He made an important save on a breakaway early in the first period and stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 5-2 victory. He also made two consecutive great stops on Vincent Trocheck after the Rangers left him all alone in front of the net.

Igor Shesterkin New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin stepped up for the New York Rangers against the Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Then in Game 7 on the road (Carolina entered the game with a 7-0 record at home), Shesterkin turned in his best performance of the playoffs. He stopped all 17 shots he faced in the first period, including a brilliant kick save on a two-on-one opportunity for Carolina. He also made a series of saves late in the first period with a group of tired players stuck on the ice. In total, he stopped 37 of 39 shots and didn’t allow any goals until after his team built a 4-0 lead in the third period.

Shesterkin and the Rangers Moving Forward

After some early struggles this postseason, Shesterkin has come through for the Rangers to keep their season alive. He allowed them to repeatedly win games even though they allowed more scoring chances than they created. He now has a .928 save percentage in New York’s 14 postseason games despite allowing 10 goals combined in Games 3 and 4 against the Penguins.

The Rangers now face a huge challenge as they play the Tampa Bay Lightning (the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.) They will once again need excellent play from Shesterkin and their star goalie’s performance thus far this postseason should give them lots of confidence that he will do just that. When his team needed him most, he delivered and helped carry them to the Eastern Conference Final.

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