Igor Shesterkin’s masterpiece with 79 saves is not enough for the Rangers

The closest comparison Igor Shesterkin experienced with what he experienced on Tuesday night came in 2019, when he started in 10 playoff games for a team from SKA St. Petersburg, which reached the finals of the KHL’s Western Conference and up in Game 7 against CSKA Moscow before losing.

So, no disrespect to the KHL, but that… that was quite different.

As good as the KHL is, there’s no Sidney Crosby standing in your crease trying to bring home a rebound as the clock ticks down in regulation and 18,006 fans in Madison Square Garden lose their collective sanity.

Stopping Crosby before the first overtime would explain one of the 79 saves Shesterkin made Tuesday night as he pulled off the same feat he’d accomplished in so many of his 53 regular-season starts and single-handedly put the Rangers in Game 1 of theirs held Series against the Penguins before Evgeni Malkin broke the dam with the winner and blocked John Marino’s shot to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 triple overtime win.

This time, Shesterkin’s exploits came with the franchise record for saves in a playoff game. Along with about 20 other superlatives.

Igor Shesterkin makes one of his 79 saves during Rangers' 4-3 overtime treble loss to the Penguins in Game 1.
Igor Shesterkin makes one of his 79 saves during Rangers’ 4-3 overtime treble loss to the Penguins in Game 1.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

The only reason there was a triple overtime in the first place was because after Rangers dominated the first 20 minutes, Shesterkin kept them in the game for the next 80 minutes.

He’s been saving what might have been his best for the game’s biggest moments, and it’s a tough one to pick from. Take your pick of a No. 59 save, a scrambling pad save to deny Bryan Rust from low position eight minutes into the second overtime, or No. 70 – to set a franchise record – against Kasperi Kapanen at the end of the time in the fifth period. Or the windmill glove rescue on Kapanen way back in the third third.

“He’s been doing it all year. He’s our best player. He showed it tonight,” said Ryan Strome. “He made everyone [save] he had to do.”

Playoff experience, it turns out, can be overstated. Just ask the king.

“Sometimes you talk so much about experience – you need this and that to be successful,” Henrik Lundqvist, who did so many times in the postseason for Rangers before moving to the MSG studio, said in a video call on Monday . “Sometimes you need it, but often it’s easier to go in fresh. You don’t think about it, you just go out and play. You can see a lot of goalies succeed early in the playoffs because they don’t feel as much pressure, they don’t think too much, they don’t try to figure everything out.”

Shesterkin, who adopted a calm and confident demeanor when speaking to reporters earlier that day, already seems to have it all figured out.

Without an interpreter, the Russian leaned back in his chair and spoke curtly. When asked if he felt any extra pressure in the postseason, he replied, “Right now, no.”

It’s one thing to say that. It’s quite another to do it.

After a strong first 20 minutes, Rangers spent the rest of the game in setbacks. Shesterkin spent them role-playing as Sisyphus.

He couldn’t stop the Penguins from taking the game into overtime. But through a game that lasted well into the night, he was able to hold it long enough to give Rangers any chance of winning it.

It was never a secret that Rangers would need Shesterkin at his best to have a chance in these playoffs and it’s no surprise he nailed the moment in Game 1.

“I think he will handle it well,” said Lundqvist on Monday.

After Tuesday you can only nod your head at this statement. Igor Shesterkin’s masterpiece with 79 saves is not enough for the Rangers


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