Lundqvist and Valiquette weigh in on Igor Shesterkin as Rangers prep for Penguins

The New York Rangers are set to make their return to NHL Playoffs. As they prepare to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in their opening round series Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, a lot of focus is on Igor Shesterkin.

With this being his first real foray into postseason action when you exclude the 2020 Qualifying Round sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, there’s a lot of questions surrounding the young netminder.

“I think Shesterkin will handle it fine. It’s still the same game,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “I think the biggest thing going into the playoffs is how you handle pressure and excitement. He showed it since he got here but also back in the KHL that he’s a calm guy and that will help him so much.”

Igor Shesterkin’s lack of NHL playoff experience

When it comes to winning NHL playoff hockey games in New York, few goalies know more than The King.

Lundqvist will always be remembered for carrying the team on numerous occasions, in particular the 2014 Stanley Cup run that fell short. The 39 year-old goalie ended his NHL career with a record of 459-310-96, a .916 SV% and a GAA of 2.43 with 64 shutouts. Simply remarkable numbers.

He was also dubbed Mr. Game 7 for a few seasons and is the New York Rangers leader in playoff games (130), playoff wins (61), and playoff shutouts (10).

So what does he think about Shesterkin’s lack of experience coming in to this series.

“We talk so much about experience but sometimes it’s easier to go in fresh,” Lundqvist explained. “You see a lot of young goalies have success early on in the playoffs because they don’t feel as much pressure. They don’t overthink it and they don’t try to figure out everything. With experience sometimes you think you have all the answers but you don’t. I believe in Igor and he’s going to do fine.”

Henrik also went back into his memory bank and recalled his first ever playoff series back in 2005-2006, an unfortunate sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.

“For me, my first playoffs I had headaches so that was disappointing not feeling 100% physically,” Lundqvist said. “Mentally, I had experienced playoffs back home. It doesn’t matter what level it’s at, the intensity goes up and you learn to work through that as a player.”

Shesterkin is a calm guy

Igor Shesterkin
Mar 4, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) is recognized by fans after a 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

A lot is made of Shesterkin’s calmness under pressure. He rarely ever gets upset when a goal is scored or gets pumped on a big save. His on-ice demeanor is pretty much the same in the locker room.

Lundqvist got to spend some time with Igor when he broke into the NHL during the 2019-20 season.

“He was a pretty quiet guy. I think it was a language barrier thing and I tried to make him comfortable,” Lundqvist recalled. “He worked hard and had a great attitude from day one. The success we’re seeing isn’t a surprise at all.”

Shesterkin has been incredible with the Rangers, posting a record of 62-29-7 with 8 shutouts in his first 100 NHL games. The King weighed in on why he thinks Igor has been able to adjust so quickly.

“I think when you play in this City, it helps to stay in your bubble and not get carried away with ups and downs,” Lundqvist added. “I think he lives his life and focuses on the game, but away from the game he focuses on friends and family. That’s healthy to not to get carried away, but in the end it comes down to being ready when you come to the rink.”

Shesterkin already forgot the regular season

Lundqvist and Valiquette on Shesterkin
Lundqvist and Valiquette discuss Shesterkin (MSGN/NYR)

Igor Shesterkin is the leading candidate to win the Vezina Trophy. This season, he posted a 36-13-4 record to carry the Rangers to the playoffs and home-ice advantage in Round one. His .935 SV% and 2.07 GAA lead the league.

For him, that’s all in the past now with the playoffs set to begin.

“It’s a new page for me,” Shesterkin said as relayed by Vince Mercogliano of USA Today. “Regular season is over for me. I already forgot about that.”

When you look at this series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hank’s former backup and MSG Analyst Steve Valiquette gave some keen insights.

“I took a look at the scouting for Igor’s game versus what Pittsburgh does well offensively,” Valiquette said. “With Pittsburgh being good at breakaways, rebounds, and east to west plays, those are all plays where Igor Shesterkin over-performs. I think it lines up well for him to have a dominating series.”

Of course, you can’t discount the man behind these great goaltenders. Benoit Allaire has been the Rangers goaltending guru for 17 seasons and his impact shouldn’t be understated.

“Allaire is so good to get his goalies to buy into the process so you’re not thinking about the result,” Valiquette explained. “Igor can’t go into the game thinking, ‘We can’t get behind’. If he gets results driven in his mindset he’ll lose because he won’t be focused on what needs to be accomplished.”

Valiquette than added why it’s unlikely for Shesterkin to fall into that trap.

“I felt like Allaire was always good at keeping us very focused and making us masters of our craft,” he concluded.

Note: Thank you to the New York Rangers and MSG Networks for giving Forever Blueshirts access to today’s Playoff Preview call.

The puck will drop on Game 1 at 7pm tomorrow night, with pregame coverage getting underway on MSG Networks at 630pm. MSG Networks will be airing every game throughout the series, as well as airing a pregame show and expanded one-hour postgame show for every opening round telecast.

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