Igor Shesterkin spent the 2021-22 regular season as one of the NHL’s most impactful players.
He was the backbone of the Rangers’ 107-point performance, is the runaway favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie, and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. Given how much he meant to the Rangers, combined with his spectacular performance, he probably should be the winner of that award as well. He was simply a monster all year and masked a lot of defensive deficiencies that existed for the Rangers. There was no bigger driving force behind their turnaround and success than him.
Heading into Game 7 of their Second Round series against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night, he has still been that player this postseason.
That should not be a huge surprise given how impressive his young career has been to this point. But his play in the playoffs doesn’t seem to be getting quite the same attention as it did during the regular season. Maybe we are just used to it at this point? Or perhaps it was that stretch in the First Round against Pittsburgh where he had three bad starts, including two where he got benched in Games 3 and 4 against the Penguins.
But outside of that stretch, he has been the same dynamic, game-changing, game-stealing, and flaw-hiding goalie that he has been all season. It is a big reason why the Rangers should be highly confident going into Game 7, and perhaps beyond if they can get one more win against the Hurricanes.
At times this postseason the Rangers have been badly outplayed by both the Penguins and Hurricanes, especially during 5-on-5 play. Their defensive metrics in terms of shots, chances, and expected goals against remain among the worst in the playoffs, just as they were during the regular season. But when you have a goalie that can play the way Shesterkin does, those things do not tend to matter as much in a short series. And make no mistake, Shesterkin is still playing at an elite level.
Even with those two rough games in the First Round, his all situations save percentage this postseason still sits at a robust .925, while he has been at .912 or above in 10 of his 13 starts, including eight starts where he has been at .923 or above. In the six games against the Hurricanes? He has been at .949 or above in four of the games. What makes those numbers even more impressive is he has faced more expected goals and high-danger shots (via Natural Stat Trick) than any other goalie this postseason. It doesn’t matter what the rest of your team looks like or plays like, when you get goaltending like that, you have a chance every night.
The Rangers definitely have their share of talent and high level players at other positions, but without goaltending like this they probably are not sitting here with this chance to advance (again) on Monday night.
If they keep winning, Shesterkin is going to have to have another potential individual award to add to his trophy collection this season (the playoff MVP).