Rangers are wasting an Igor Shesterkin series masterclass ahead of Game 5

Rangers wasting Igor Shesterkin in this series
New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin hits New Jersey Devils right wing Timo Meier in the second period of Game 3 of the team’s NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photos

Fans of the New York Rangers have been spoiled when it comes to their goaltenders over the last decade.

Henrik Lundqvist patrolled the crease and came through time and time again during the clutch. His successor in net has been as good throughout his career and is on a dominant tear through the start of the 2022-23 playoffs. 

The problem for Igor Shesterkin though is that, like Lundqvist, he’s not getting much help from anyone else. 

Objectively, Shesterkin has been the best goaltender in the NHL since the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s given up the fewest goals per game among netminders who have appeared in more than two games, His goals saved above expected rating is higher than the favorite for the Vezina Trophy in Linus Ullmark, and his WAR is the highest among any goaltender during the first round. 

With the Rangers preparing for a road contest in Game 5 Thursday night, they’ll go into New Jersey knowing they have a goaltender playing his best hockey when they need him most. 

The problem is that there are few on the team even playing as close to his level of dominance. 

When the Rangers took a commanding 2-0 series lead against the rival Devils, the belief was that if the team could continue to play well, their series would be over quickly with how well Shesterkin was playing. The problem was that once the series shifted to Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts’ offense faltered in unforeseen ways. In the wake of their struggles, Shesterkin has continued to be consistent while facing a barrage of pucks from one of the best offenses in the league in New Jersey. 

It all came to a head Monday night in Game 4. New York had a chance to take a commanding three-games-to-one series lead over their rivals and got another great goaltending performance from Shesterkin (over .900% save percentage and 20 saves). 

The issue? Neither of the team’s top lines showed up and the Rangers turned the puck over 15 times in a 3-1 Game 4 loss. 

“The only thing I liked (Monday) night was I thought the Kid Line played well and goaltending was solid,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said after their 3-1 loss. 

There’s too much talent on New York’s roster to falter offensively as they have done through the last two playoff contests. The beauty for the team is that as long as Shesterkin continues to play the way he has, they’ll have a shot to win a first-round series against a very talented team. In 25 playoff games in his career, Shesterkin has the fourth-best GAA average among Rangers goaltenders that made over 20 playoff starts and has a higher save percentage than his predecessor at this point in his career. 

But if the team isn’t careful, they could be wasting one of the best performances from a goaltender in team history with a first-round exit. And it would mean the franchise hasn’t learned anything with another top goalie on their roster. 

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