</DC>Henrik Lundqvist wandered over from the MSG Networks studios next door to watch — in person with his wife and children — the Rangers try yet again to keep their season alive. The future Hall of Fame netminder’s thoughts as he watched successor Igor Shesterkin were not for public consumption until the postgame show.
But No. 30 (ret.) almost certainly said to himself as he sat in Madison Square Garden, “I never had a night like that.”
Few goalies have. Few goalies can make 37 saves, assist on two goals, mete out a physical interference penalty and draw ex-Ranger villain Tony DeAngelo into an unsportsmanlike- conduct call.
Shesterkin willed himself into all facets of Saturday night’s 5-2 win over the Hurricanes in Game 6 of their second-round series as the Rangers improved to 4-0 this postseason in elimination games.
“We had to win and that’s exactly what we did,” Shesterkin said through his interpreter. “About the two assists, honestly, I think it was mostly the guys who did all the work. I just left them the puck and they delivered what they had to do. About the two minutes [PENALTY], I think it was a bit of my mistake. I shouldn’t have gone that far.”
No. 31 (ret. in 15 years or so?) did his primary job in holding the Hurricanes to two goals with several spectacular saves. That included denying Sebastian Aho as he broke free up ice seconds before Tyler Motte gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 7:22 of the first period.
Still in the first, Shesterkin stopped Nino Niederreiter low in the slot. Then, while lying on his stomach, he gloved Jordan Martinook’s shot from the right at 15:39. At 9:07 of the third period, he made a pad save on Vincent Trocheck at the crease, then used his glove to snatch Trocheck’s rebound try.
Shesterkin left the puck for defenseman Adam Fox, who fed Mika Zibanejad for a power-play goal to make it 2-0 at 9:51 of the first period. Then he passed the puck to Alexis Lafreniere, who fed Filip Chytil to lift a backhander for a 4-1 lead at 6:47 of the second period.
Shesterkin became the fifth goalie in NHL history with two assists in a playoff game. With three assists in this postseason, he became the Rangers’ all-time leader in that category, surpassing John Vanbiesbrouck.
And after all that, Shesterkin stood up and used his stick and blocker to knock down Seth Jarvis as he tried to get behind the Rangers’ crease at 17:42 of the second.
“He made some real key saves for us,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “The two assists are huge. I think he was trying to get three there in the third period when he passed it up the middle. When he took his penalty, we were so tired in the zone, he just wanted to get a whistle more than anything.”
He drew the penalty from DeAngelo at 10:22 of the third period, and all of it just endeared him to the sellout Garden crowd even more.
“I-Gor! I-Gor! I-Gor!”
Shesterkin will hear that again — only in a derisive manner — in Monday night’s Game 7 in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the Hurricanes are 7-0 in these playoffs.
Whom Shesterkin opposes may be a (slight) question after Antti Raanta gave up three goals on 13 shots and was pulled. Raanta has a .965 save percentage at home, but No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen (lower body) may be available to play for the first time since April 18.
Whomever the Rangers are shooting at, their Game 6 victory can’t be a home-ice mirage, a product of a hyped-up crowd fueling their backs-against-the-wall desperation. This can’t be elite skaters freed from stifling defensive matchups because the opposing coach didn’t have the last change.
Shesterkin was good enough for one to think he could possibly supplant Andrei Vasilevskiy as the playoffs’ best netminder — and what a goalie matchup that would be if the Rangers can advance to face the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals.
Now they have a final chance to get it done on the road.
And Shesterkin is the best reason to think they can win.