Before the Eastern Conference Final series between the Rangers and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning began, Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin, the presumptive winner of this year’s Vezina Trophy, as the NHL’s best goalie, had called Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy the best goaltender in the world.
And after the Rangers beat Vasilevskiy in each of the first two games of the series, Shesterkin wasn’t about to gloat, or change his opinion.
“I don't think [beating Vasilevskiy and the Lightning twice] really matters,’’ Shesterkin said after Friday’s 3-2 win in Game 2. “I still stand by my opinion that everything was as I said before. Andrei is still the best goalie in the world.
“And you can't forget that the series is to four wins. So we just have to keep playing.’’
Tampa outshot the Rangers 31-28 in Game 2, with Shesterkin making 29 saves and Vasilevskiy 25. But during the second period, when the Rangers dominated possession, outshooting the Lightning 14-3 over the first 14 1/2 minutes, Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in it, stopping everything until Tampa Bay found its legs. The Lightning had the final seven shots of the period and then it was Shesterkin’s turn to lock the door.
The first goal of the game, by Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, came on a power play that was awarded when Ryan Reaves was penalized for slashing Pat Maroon. The two players had been talking with each other on a faceoff, and appeared to have agreed to fight after the puck was dropped. But they didn’t. Instead, Maroon had hold of Reaves’ stick, and Reaves apparently was penalized for trying to yank the stick out of Maroon’s grip.
The Rangers did not take another penalty in the game, and coach Gerard Gallant said that was a key to the victory.
“Discipline's a big part of it, and we’ve got to continue to do that,’’ Gallant said. “Our power play's been good all playoffs, our penalty kill's been real good all playoffs, so you stay disciplined, you stay 5-on-5, and I like our chances.’’
Cooper lauds Mika
Speaking before Game 2, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he believes the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad is one of those elite players who he has to design a game plan around stopping.
“When you circle players, when you get the Rangers, he’s as good as it gets,’’ Cooper said of Zibanejad. “He plays in every situation. I’ve had to coach against that guy for a long time, [in the] minors and pros. He’s got it all. It’s actually been impressive to watch his maturation as a player. There’s no question he’s a difference-maker. Just like the [Nikita] Kucherovs, and the [Brayden] Points and the ‘Stammers’ [Steven Stamkos]. For these guys, that’s what he is for them.’’
Zibanejad has nine goals and 13 assists in the playoffs.
Athletes are also fans
Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller said he has gotten a kick out of seeing how many professional athletes from the other major sports seem to be showing up at the Garden to watch the Rangers in the playoffs. The Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo attended Wednesday’s game, and players from the Jets and Giants have been showing up in the postseason. Blake Martinez, the Giants linebacker, has been a regular at games all season, and Giants coach Brian Daboll has been coming, as well.
“Just being here in New York, during the playoffs, has been awesome,’’ Miller said. “You see the support, game in and game out, What our fans are capable of, and I think it really showed in that the last couple of games in Carolina [in the last series]. How many Rangers fans actually showed up? You could still hear the chants just like we were at the Garden. So it's been fun, and yeah, all the support's been really cool.’’