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Gerard Gallant must act quickly when Igor Shesterkin falters

PITTSBURGH — The chalk outline may still be etched ahead of the crease when Igor Shesterkin returns to the scene of the carnage for Friday’s potential Elimination Game 6 against the Penguins.

Here the Hart Trophy finalist will face the biggest challenge of his career. This is where head coach Gerard Gallant must be prepared to act as quickly as possible without regard to the feelings or egos of others when things go wrong on this ice for the third year in a row.

It is true. The Blueshirts may face an even more wounded team from when they were last on this ice if Sidney Crosby is unavailable after the awkward hit he intercepted from Jacob Trouba – legally and without particular malice despite the unfortunate consequences delivered – in the middle of the second period of game 5.

The Penguins are already playing with third-row goaltender Louis Domingue, who emerged as the goaltender when he conceded goals from four consecutive shots in a 7:42 span, bridging the second and third halves as Rangers went from a 0: 2 deficit to a 4: clinched. 3 lead in Game 5. They’re missing top-pair defenseman Brian Dumoulin. They’ll be without second-line winger Rickard Rakell since Ryan Lindgren drove him hard and high into the boards late in the first period of Game 1.

But be (un)sure that even this weary foe will pose a mortal threat when Shesterkin is unnerved and knocked off his game by the incessant, thunderous chant taunted by the crowd that will echo as the indelible soundtrack to this one , just like he was for games 3 and 4.

Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin during the team's Game 5 win over the Penguins.
Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin during the team’s Game 5 win over the Penguins.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

We all know what happened. The Rangers dispersed throughout the ice. Chaos was the only constant in the defensive zone. The penguins drove bodies and pucks into the net. Shesterkin had trouble tracking the puck. He had problems with pucks at his feet. He wasn’t able to get stoppages. He couldn’t calm down the Rangers. Mark Messier probably couldn’t have done it either.

The 26-year-old Russian was driven from the net and pulled in back-to-back games after allowing four goals on 15 shots in the first period of Game 3, before being pulled after scoring six goals on 30 in two periods of Game 4 shots finished the regular season with the third-highest save percentage in NHL history at .935 (50-game qualifying) and had a .778 save percentage (and a 10.02 GAA) at Pittsburgh.

And that’s where he’ll go again after battling through Wednesday’s 5-3 Game 5 win, where his level of competition made up for temporary technical inefficiencies. Shesterkin looks worn out. In seven of his last 16 regular season games, he has had a save ratio of less than .900. He got caught in an emotional whirlpool. There are only five games in the first round, although the first lasted 105 minutes and 58 seconds.

The Rangers need to ramp it up in every facet of the game. They’re doing without much of marquee forwards Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Ryan Strome, the quartet that carried the team’s offense on both five-a-sides and power plays for six months.

The team was trapped for shifts at a time due to random work in the defensive zone that prevents clean breakouts. They’ve repeatedly given up acres of good ice and ceded the line on Penguins’ rushes for poor decisions with the puck.

But the blueshirts will also need the No. 31 to perform as they did during the season following the announcement that Shesterkin, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid were selected as the three finalists for the league’s MVP award.

Gerard Gallant behind the Rangers bench in Game 5.
Gerard Gallant behind the Rangers bench in Game 5.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“He’s been our best player all year,” said Kreider, coming dangerously close to Did. You. See. Chris? Area. “He kept us in games. He won games single-handedly. He was otherworldly.”

All of this is true. It’s also true, as noted by Kreider, that Rangers “let him down” in Games 3 and 4. But it’s up to Shesterkin – who bears the same kind of outsized responsibility that Henrik Lundqvist has borne for so many years – to raise his game, to be the backbone of the club, to prove as invincible in the playoffs as Mike was Richter did and Eddie Giacomin didn’t.

“I don’t think he’s someone who loses confidence,” Kreider said of Shesterkin. “We must continue to support each other.”

Gallant had a choice here, he could have gone with Alex Georgiev in that game after No. 40’s stabilizing assist work in Games 3 and 4 but the truth, as we all know, is there was no choice. The manager could probably have re-dated his traveling papers if he had listed Shesterkin as the latter’s replacement.

No, the crease belongs to Shesterkin… as long as he can keep it. With early warning signs, the head coach must act quickly. This is about the team, not an individual. It’s about keeping the season alive.

This is about whether Shesterkin can overcome the biggest challenge of his career. Crosby or not, this is about whether the Hart finalist can lead Rangers to Game 7.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/12/gerard-gallant-must-act-quickly-if-igor-shesterkin-falters/ Gerard Gallant must act quickly when Igor Shesterkin falters

JOE HERNANDEZ

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