Igor Shesterkin stealing wins for Rangers in Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have several people to thank for consecutive overtime wins in the Eastern Conference Final, which has given them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series over the Florida Panthers. But if we’re dishing out “thank you’s,” the very first one should go to Igor Shesterkin.

“He was our best player tonight, I thought,” Vincent Trocheck said following New York’s 5-4 win in Game 3. “I thought he made countless big saves to keep us in the game, to keep us up, to make sure they didn’t win in overtime. I think he stole this one a little bit late.”

Shesterkin has been phenomenal throughout the course of the postseason and was excellent again Sunday in South Florida, warding off a relentless third period and overtime surge from the Panthers with countless key saves, keeping the game tied and paving the way for Alex Wennberg’s OT winner.

It’s not every day that you see a goalie seemingly universally praised after allowing four goals in a game, but make no mistake, the flowers are deserved after his Game 3 performance..

The Panthers outshot the Rangers 18-8 in the third period and overtime combined. They generated 27 scoring chances, including eight high-danger in the third, all the while limiting New York to just six scoring chances in the same span (via Natural Stat Trick).

The Rangers are no stranger to getting outshot (more on that later), and it was the case again yesterday as Shesterkin faced 37 shots on goal while Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky saw only 23.

Shesterkin stopped 33, including 16 of 18 in a hectic final 25 minutes and 35 seconds.

Florida found the back of the net twice in the first seven minutes of the third thanks to goals from Aleksander Barkov and Gustav Forsling, the latter of which tied the game 4-4 with over 13 minutes left to play. The Panthers didn’t get any less dominant as the period commenced, hungry to take a 2-1 lead at home after a heartbreaking OT loss two nights before. Yet Shesterkin withstood numerous high-intensity flurries and kept the game even at four.

The Panthers dominated offensive zone time, as characterized by the wide disparity in shot attempts, with Florida taking 108 compared to New York’s 44.

With the ice tilted in the final period of regulation, Shesterkin held strong on Florida’s sixth power play, which came in the final six minutes after a Jacob Trouba holding penalty, and remained composed as the Panthers kept the Rangers hemmed in for the final two minutes of regulation.

He literally saved the game when he stoned Matthew Tkachuk on the doorstep with under a minute to play.

The Panthers picked up right where they left off to start overtime, but the former Vezina Trophy winner remained sharp, including on Barkov’s right-wing shot off a 2-on-1 just nine seconds into OT. He then continued to knocked away multiple good looks from Florida’s top six ahead of the Wennberg winner.

“At the end of the day, you need a goalie to help out, and he does it more than once or twice,” Wennberg said postgame. “It’s a good feeling to have that goalie to make those saves and make a difference.

Related: Panthers coach delivers quip about Jacob Trouba elbow penalty in Game 3

Rangers have ‘no-panic mentality’ with Igor Shesterkin in goal

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a comfort that allows the Rangers to play an often-times selective style of hockey, favoring quality of chances over quantity.

Despite a relentless Panthers forecheck and their stretches of O-Zone domination, the Rangers have been able to keep each of the first three games within reach, taking the last two.

“We have kind of a no-panic mentality that it’s kind of relied on in those moments when we’re under siege,” Barclay Goodrow told Vince Mercogliano of USA Today Sports.

The Rangers are now 4-0 in overtime games this postseason. Credit where credit is due — they’ve come up with clutch goals all season long and it’s translated to the playoffs. It’s thanks to Shesterkin, however, that many of these games are even getting to overtime.

New York has been outshot in 10 of their 13 postseason contests and by 78 over the course of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite this, they have lost just three times and are 7-3 when being outshot.

“When you have a guy like that back there, you have a lot of confidence. You can make a mistake here or there, not that you want to, but you know if you do that he’s gonna be there to backstop you,” Trocheck explained. “Tonight was a great example of that.”

Shesterkin ranks second among all postseason goaltenders with 9.6 Goals Saved Above Expected (per MoneyPuck). Jeremy Swayman of the Boston Bruins ranks first (13.3), making Shesterkin the leader among goalies still playing in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It should come as no surprise, given his already lengthy resume of playoff excellence. Shesterkin ranked second last postseason with 8.8 GSAA, despite playing just seven games in New York’s first-round exit at the hands of the New Jersy Devils. The year before, he led all postseason goaltenders with 18.6 GSAA when the Rangers fell in the Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In 41 postseason games, Shesterkin boasts a .927 save percentage and has allowed four or more goals just five times, enjoying a stretch of 30 consecutive postseason games with three goals or less, until these playoffs.

Shesterkin has already established himself as one of the League’s best netminders, but it feels like he kicks things into a higher gear when the postseason comes around. It’s reminiscent of Rangers legend and NHL Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist, who similarly shined in the playoffs for the better part of two decades.

There’s plenty of road left to travel in this year’s postseason with much still undecided. But one thing is certain — it’s hard to imagine where the Rangers would be without the play of Igor Shesterkin.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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