Time for soft New York Rangers to toughen up for Igor Shesterkin

new york rangers
May 7, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) takes the ice to warm up before the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game three of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers better find a backbone tonight in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Forget about the do-or-die scenario, this is much bigger than a playoff series. This is about responding to a head coach that called his team soft five times in a two minute span after an embarrassing 7-2 loss in Game 4.

“We played soft,” Gerard Gallant fumed on Monday. “That’s the biggest difference. We were soft all over the ice.”

After watching the Penguins score 14 goals in both games in Pittsburgh, Gallant made sure to get his message across by running Herbies after practice. Made famous by late coach Herb Brooks, and captured perfectly in the movie Miracle about the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team, the Rangers skated sprints without pucks.

It was a reminder to get back to playing hard and disciplined.

“Get back to our work ethic,” Gallant explained. “Get back to our straight up and down game. We had a great regular season. Second best in the league in goals against average. We can’t give up 7 goals and expect to win.”

Soft Rangers need to toughen up for Igor Shesterkin

new york rangers
May 3, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31) makes a save during the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game one of the third round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

One person the head coach did not want to blame was Igor Shesterkin, who will be back in goal for Wednesday’s big match.

“He’s the best goalie in the league,” Gallant said. “So, I’m going to go with him.”

Shesterkin, 26, was named one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy on Tuesday. He is considered the favorite to win over Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Nashville’s Juuse Saros. The Rangers #1 was the NHL leader in GAA (2.07) and SV% (.935) with a record of 36-13-4.

Although you wouldn’t know that by looking at this series.

“It was not on [Shesterkin] at all,” Andrew Copp said on Monday. “It’s going to be up to every guy to pull together and do what we can to win Game 5.”

This leads me to my next point: The New York Rangers’ skaters owe their goalie a defensive effort for the ages.

Shesterkin has been incredible this season, even so he looks absolutely rattled right now. Despite his video game like numbers this year, he’s still human and subject to emotion.

It’s time for this soft defense to toughen up and give Igor the support he needs.

“I think our backs are obviously against the wall and I think we just have to come out and play hard,” Adam Fox said via the NY Post. “Obviously, coming back home is hopefully going to give us a little spark and I think we just got to give it our all. Down 3-1, you don’t have much left to lose and leave it all out there and the results take care of itself.”

Penguins know this isn’t over

The Penguins have a 3-1 series lead and are also experienced enough to know this isn’t over.

“It’s going to a different game,” Penguins defenseman Kris Letang acknowledged. “It’s going to be the hardest game to win. It doesn’t matter if you won by five goals or OT, a win is a win and we have to turn the page quick.”

Sidney Crosby, who has dominated this series with 9 points in 5 games, including a goal and two helpers in Game 4 isn’t feeling overconfident.

“I think we know we have a lot of work left,” Crosby said. “They’re a good hockey team and we’ve definitely got an opportunity, but we know it’s going to be a challenge going to New York.”

“Nobody’s comfortable,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan admitted. “We understand the challenge ahead of us. We’re just trying to stay in the moment. We gotta stay hungry.”

Rickard Rakell skated this morning and is a game-time decision. Ryan Lindgren did not practice yesterday and is likely out again.

NHL Playoff Scores

The Toronto Maple Leafs rallied for a big win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus the L.A. Kings have the Edmonton Oilers on the brink of elimination. Get up to speed here.