‘Unreal’ Igor Shesterkin heroic again to close out Rangers’ win
K’Andre Miller leaned forward in his chair, all his weight on his elbows. Something between exasperation and appreciation crossed his face.
“I mean,” he said, “I can’t imagine the times people have said nice things about Igor bailing us out at this point of the year.”
For much of Friday night, it looked as if Game 2 against the Lightning wouldn’t have to be one of those nights for the Rangers. They were controlling the game. Mika Zibanejad’s insurance tally at the start of the third period had given them a two-goal cushion. They were on the fast track to a two-games-to-none lead in the Eastern Conference Final.
Then, Nick Paul scored with 2:02 to go in the third and the same old story was playing out again. The Rangers were asking Igor Shesterkin to go win them the game. And Shesterkin was delivering.
He stopped Steven Stamkos in tight with the kind of save almost nobody makes, but everyone now expects Shesterkin to make. Zibanejad cleared the puck. The Rangers hung on to win 3-2.
Afterward, Miller, who scored a goal in the win, tried to come up with something original to say about the goaltender after his 46th victory of the year. In Shesterkin’s case, most of the wins have very much belonged to him, and with 29 saves, so did this one.
“He’s unreal,” Miller said. “You see it every game, he has a number of highlight-reel saves. Obviously, we have a lot of trust in him and kinda let him do his thing. Obviously we try to limit the chances that he sees by blocking shots and doing those little things.
“But Shesty’s Shesty. He’s gonna stop the puck if he sees it.”
Two games into a series that was billed as a duel between the world’s two best goaltenders, Shesterkin has two wins over Andrei Vasilevskiy, who let in six goals in Game 1 on Wednesday night and looked shaky again at times on Friday.
The Rangers seem to have figured something out with Vasilevskiy: His vulnerable spot is to the high blocker side. Moreover, Vasilevskiy had moments Friday in which he struggled to corral the puck; Corey Perry had to clear one off the line after it went through Vasilevskiy’s legs.
No such issues have afflicted Shesterkin — at least not since he was benched in Game 4 of the first round against the Penguins. Prior to this series, he called Vasilevskiy the best goaltender on the planet, and though he’s making a case otherwise, he has no interest in amending that opinion.
“Currently I don’t think that really matters,” Shesterkin said through a translator. “I still stand by my opinion that everything was as I said before. Andrei’s still the best goalie in the world, and you can’t forget that the series is [first] to four wins, so you have to keep playing.”
Even if his take doesn’t change, his play is making an argument that words cannot. And he’s two wins away from putting it in ink.