New York Rangers rookie goaltender Igor Shesterkin has been fully focused throughout his career on making it to the NHL and to be named a number one goaltender.
Both of those boxes were checked off this year. In only 12 games (10 wins) Shesterkin has laid down a strong foundation for seasons to come with the Blueshirts.
The 24-year-old now has to overcome two things that he has never battled before.
- Getting back In-game shape after a four-month hiatus from the ice due to the COVID virus.
- Trying not to look over his shoulder if he should struggle with a future Hall of Famer and the team’s all-time win leader Henrik Lundqvist looking for one more opportunity to take the team to a Stanley Cup Championship.
The pressure on the Russian goalie will be unlike anything he has ever experienced.
The Qualifying Round
The numbers suggest that head coach David Quinn should start a well-rested Henrik Lundqvist. Â He holds a 25-5 record against their opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes, since 2011. This season Henrik was 3-0 against the â€˜Canes.
Hank has 61 career playoff wins and led the Rangers with two victories of a Stanley Cup In 2014.
The numbers can also be misleading with Lundqvistâ€™s game slipping this season. The recall of Shesterkin in January and eventual number-one status put designated Henrik to the back-up position. One he did not want to accept but did so for the better of the team.
Shesterkin Has Earned His Opportunity
Shesterkin deserves a shot to start in the playoffs. He makes the team in front of him better. The rookie’s speed with his glove, Incredible speed post-to-post, and puck handling skills has made teams have to change their attack into the Rangers defensive side of the ice.
To this point, he has shown no fear in the goal. With only 12 NHL games of experience can he be ready to take on the NHLâ€™s best in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Shesterkin has playoff experience while he played in the KHL. He has appeared in 16 KHL playoff games with an 8-6 record, 1.91 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. Â As a member of SKA St. Petersburgh, he won the Gagarin Cup.
In the only game, Shesterkin played against the Hurricanes he gave up two goals in a Rangers 5-2 victory in Carolina on Feb. 21. One game does not make a starter in the NHL. Shesterkin lacks one aspect that his backup (crazy to write) does. Stanley Cup Playoff experience along with a first-time playoff coach he may be a little trigger happy to pull Shesterkin early on if things go south fast.
At the end of the day, it’s about winning. There is not much room for error in a best of five series. The decision of who to start or hen to make a change in goal will be decided by David Quinn. How long will he wait for depends not only on the goalie but the team in front of him at the time?
Lundqvist could be a deciding factor before the first game begins. He has been living in Sweden. since the pandemic shit the NHL down in March. The King has been practicing with his brothers Joel team, Frolunda HC. It may not be the same as NHL quality players, but the Frolunda Indians have a good squad with plenty of shooters to keep Hank in shape. He will enter training camp fresh, energetic, and on a mission to get his starting spot back when the Qualifying Round begins.
Shesterkin, for now, will remain in Florida skating with the NHL players like fellow Russian and Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. He will be in game shape when training camp opens on July 10.
This will be the first time in over 15 years that the Blueshirts may have a goalie competition in training camp. The winner won’t necessarily be the same player that may win the third and deciding game against Carolina.
Safe to assume that Shesterkin gets the start in game 1, but its anyone’s guess how much rope Quinn will give his rookie goaltender knowing he has a King looking to take his throne back.