Igor Shesterkin shares disturbing playoff connection with legendary Rangers goalie

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Vincent Trocheck wrap Igor Shesterkin up in a postgame hug on the New York Rangers bench and speak into the goalie’s ear was a heartbreaking scene in South Florida on Saturday night.

The Rangers season was over after a 2-1 loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. As brilliant as Shesterkin was, and that’s the exact word Panthers coach Paul Maurice used to describe the 28-year-old goalie in this series, he was unable to will the Blueshirts into the Stanley Cup Final.

So, it’s now 30 years since the Rangers have won the Stanley Cup, 10 years since their last trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

And you can imagine Trocheck trying to comfort Shesterkin, perhaps apologizing for everyone wearing a white sweater Saturday after letting their star down. Again. Because make no mistake, Shesterkin was the reason the Rangers pushed as far as they did against the relentless Panthers in this series.

Shesterkin stopped 187 of 200 shots over six games, a sterling .935 save percentage. According to Natural Statirck, Shesterkin faced 94 high-danger chances in this series, 77 at even strength. To compare, the Rangers managed 40 high-danger chances 5v5 against Sergei Bobrovsky, who was also pretty darn good in these six games, just not tested nearly as much as his Rangers counterpart.

So many one-on-ones down low. Chances off the rush. Turnovers off ferocious Panthers pressure. Yet game-in and game-out, Shesterkin was New York’s best player, keeping his team in every game, even though Florida was often running the Blueshirts out of the building.

Crazy as it sounds, he might have been at his most brilliant when he allowed four goals in Game 3. The Panthers erased a 4-2 deficit with a pair of goals in the third period and the Rangers were under siege for 20 minutes, looking punch drunk as they were turned every which way like a spinning top.

But Shesterkin wouldn’t allow that fifth goal. And the Rangers won in overtime when Alex Wennberg had a shot deflect off his chest and into the net. It was an absolute robbery. “Wanted” posters should have populated the state of Florida calling for Shesterkin’s arrest.

With even less support offensively, and thus even less margin for error, Shesterkin again heroically kept the Rangers within striking distance in the next three games. But the Rangers couldn’t deliver for him, losing three one-goal games in a row, bowing out in six just as they had in the 2022 conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In the end, it feels like Shesterkin deserved so much better for his incredible play and from his teammates.

“He had a heck of a series. I thought Igor was outstanding,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought he was excellent, fantastic the whole series.”

Related: Rangers know they ‘came up short’ by not winning Stanley Cup this season

Igor Shesterkin, Henrik Lundqvist sharing similar playoff fates with Rangers

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-New York Rangers at Los Angeles Kings
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If you think you’ve seen this movie or read this story before, well, you have.

Henrik Lundqvist put the Rangers on his back in multiple playoffs, willing them deep into the postseason, winning Game 7s, advancing to three conference finals in four seasons and an appearance in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

Lundqvist played on Rangers teams that largely defended well and struggled to score in the playoffs. The focus, spotlight and bullseye was always on Lundqvist, who was expected to save the Rangers game after game, postseason after postseason. Just a bit more help, a smidge more good fortune, and Lundqvist likely would have had a Stanley Cup championship on his Hall of Fame resume.

But that’s not how it played out. That 6-2 record in Game 7s is unmatched by any goalie in NHL history. He started 130 playoff games for the Rangers and had a 2.30 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Twice, in 2012 and 2013, his save percentage was over .930. Six times his GAA was 2.26 or under, including 1.82 in 20 games during the 2012 run and 2.14 when the Blueshirts ultimately lost to the Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, losing three times in overtime. Games where Lundqvist made every save you can imagine trying to buy his team time and the chance to find a way to win.

In the end, his lasting playoff legacy is lying face first on the Staple Center ice after Alec Martinez’s double-OT goal in game 5 of the 2014 Final.

Sound familiar?

In 44 playoff starts, Shesterkin has a 2.41 GAA and .928 save percentage. Even last postseason, when the Rangers underperformed and lost in seven games to the New Jersey Devils in the first round, Shesterkin had a 1.96 GAA and .931 save percentage.

Lundqvist and Shesterkin are already forever linked in Rangers history and lore because of their regular-season success, Vezina Trophy wins and playoff brilliance.

But they share one other more troubling connection. Their teammates didn’t do enough — or haven’t done so, in Shesterkin’s case — to help their star goalies finish the job as last team standing.

Only Mike Richter knows what it’s like to be a Rangers goalie holding the Stanley Cup above his head in the past 84 years. That was an example of where his brilliance was often matched by that of his team.

Right now, Shesterkin can only hope that day is still to come for him and the Rangers, unlike the fate that was placed on Lundqvist.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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