Super Shesterkin, unsung Rangers heroes coming up big in Eastern Conference Finals

Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin makes save against Panthers in playoffs
Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) attempts a shot at New York Rangers center Barclay Goodrow (21) and goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) in the first period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The New York Rangers played some of their worst hockey this postseason in the third period Sunday against the Florida Panthers, yet somehow managed to win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals anyway.

All the credit for that accomplishment goes to the incredible Igor Shesterkin, who took everything the Panthers offense could throw at him and stood strong; and unsung heroes like Alex Wennberg, who slipped the game-winning goal past Florida netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. 

To that point, Shesterkin and Bobrovsky played equals all afternoon, except in one facet: Shesterikin took a barrage of shots from the relentless Panthers all afternoon, making 33 stops. Bobrovsky, on the other hand, stopped just 18 Rangers shots.

The Rangers entered the third period with a two-goal edge, that Florida quickly erased as their offense kicked things into high gear. While the Rangers withered, the Panthers threw everything they could at Shesterkin in pursuit of a potentially back-breaking game-winner, but the Rangers netminder would not break.

Over the last 8:10 of the third period alone, the NHL credited 24 shot attempts — all of them by Florida, as the Panthers just unleashed a barrage on Shesterkin. Of the 24 shot tries, only six were on goal and needed to be saved; nine were blocked, eight missed and one hit the post.

That Shesterkin stood on his head and kept the Rangers and Panthers tied at the end of regulation was a feat unto itself. Then came Wennberg, who managed to break through the impasse in the sixth minute of overtime with the game-winner.

Rangers center Alex Wennberg scores game-winning goal
New York Rangers center Alex Wennberg (91) deflects the puck into the net against Florida Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) in an overtime period of Game 3 during the Eastern Conference finals of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla. The Rangers beat the Panthers 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Incredibly, Wennberg had just one goal for the Rangers in 31 games after being picked up from the Seattle Kraken in March. He joins another unlikely hero this postseason in Barclay Goodrow, who netted two more playoff goals on Sunday. He now has six goals in roughly a month of playoff hockey — two more goals than he had during the six-month regular season. 

“This is a team,” said Wennberg. “It doesn’t matter who’s the hero. It doesn’t matter who does it, we have everyone fighting for one another. Yeah, maybe I haven’t put up the same amount of points, but we’re a team. Everything we do we do together.”

The victory on Florida’s home ice kept the Rangers undefeated in overtime playoff games this postseason, and a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven series.

After a disturbing Game 1 shutout loss at Madison Square Garden, with Bobvrosky completely stymieing the Blueshirts, it seemed the Rangers had met their match. Now, off two back-to-back, exhilarating overtime wins, the Rangers seem to have the wind on their backs again heading into Game 4 Tuesday night in Florida — needing just two more wins to clinch their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in a decade.

“This team, we have that belief,” Wennberg said. “Maybe not the most vocal kind of thing, but we all look at each other and we know what to do.”

Game 4 is at May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.