Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders...

Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders warm up prior to the Discover NHL Tendy Tandem during the 2023 NHL All-Star Skills Competition at FLA Live Arena on Feb. 3 in Sunrise, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin were born five months apart in Russia in 1995 and now play their home games about 20 miles apart for the Rangers and Islanders.

But these days the most important bond they share has nothing to do with age or location. Rather, it is their position.

Only goaltenders truly understand what fellow goaltenders go through.

So it is that in this spring of success for one and of struggle for the other, Shesterkin and Sorokin have exchanged occasional calls and texts, Shesterkin told Newsday after practice on Monday.

“Sometimes bad days happen,” he said when asked about Sorokin in particular and goaltenders in general.

“Of course, you need to figure out how to put it out [of your mind] and stay on the right page, just continue to build your game and keep working, do the right things and turn it around.”

Those words apply to Sorokin and Shesterkin, two of the best young goalies in the world, and to every other goalie to put on pads.

That is the message Sorokin got from his Hall of Fame goalie-turned-coach, Patrick Roy, after Roy pulled him in Game 3 of a first-round series against the Hurricanes, ending a disappointing season.

And it is the message that never leaves Shesterkin as he navigates a second-round series against the same team, which began on Sunday with a stellar outing in the Rangers’ 4-3 victory in Game 1.

Everyone knows stuff happens at that position.

It was only 14 months ago that I encountered Shesterkin at the same locker room stall, at which time the then-reigning Vezina Trophy winner was shaken by an extended slump.

Asked then if his confidence was where it should be, he said, “Of course not. I try to work, try to stay positive, so hopefully everything gets better.”

About his level of play in general, he said, “Playing not good.”

Then-coach Gerard Gallant said that same day, “He hasn’t been at his best; we all know that . . . Am I worried about it? Not one bit. He’ll be fine. He’s our best player.”

Shesterkin was better down the stretch last season. Then the Rangers lost in the first round to the Devils’ third-string goalie, rookie Akira Schmid, who shut them out in Games 5 and 7.

Schmid spent this season split between the AHL’s Utica Comets and the Devils, for whom he went 5-9-1 in 15 decisions.

That’s goalies!

Shesterkin looked less-than-sharp at times early this season, with backup Jonathan Quick picking up the slack. But he has been outstanding since the All-Star break.

Entering the Carolina series, he widely was perceived as the better of the goalies compared to Frederik Andersen, an 11-year veteran. Andersen looked shaky at times against the Islanders in the first round.

In Game 1, Shesterkin helped the Rangers fight off five Carolina power plays. Andersen allowed a not-so-great goal by Artemi Panarin between his side and stick-hand arm to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead midway through the third period.

“Good start for first game,” Shesterkin said. “We played our game, so we have to play the same way [on Tuesday night].”

In times of trouble, Sorokin can lean on Roy as well as another Russian, veteran Semyon Varlamov, in addition to his goalie coach.

Shesterkin has the benefit of Quick, a three-time Stanley Cup winner and one of the better backups in the league.

“He is unbelievable person, unbelievable hockey player,” Shesterkin said. “So happy to have him on the team. I have a lot of things to see from him, so we work together and he can help me outside of hockey, too . . . Much better to have him on the team than playing against him.”

What does Quick see in Shesterkin?

“It all stems from his work ethic and what he does repeatedly in practice over and over again,” Quick told Newsday. “That’s where you form all your habits. I see him every day at practice, and the type of compete and work he puts into practice translates to the games.”

Quick added, “He has no holes in his game. He works on everything. There isn’t a play in a game that he hasn’t trained for and practiced for.”

For now, that looks to be an edge for the Rangers. But what will Tuesday bring?

With goalies, one never knows for sure.


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