The closest comparison Igor Shesterkin has to what he was set to experience Tuesday came in 2019, when he started 10 playoff games for an SKA St. Petersburg team that made the KHL’s Western Conference finals, getting as far as Game 7 against CSKA Moscow before losing.
So, no disrespect to the KHL, this will be pretty different for Shesterkin, who carries the hopes of the Rangers on his shoulders in net as they headed into Game 1 of their first-round series against the Penguins. And that, according to at least one luminary, could turn into an advantage.
“Sometimes, you talk so much about experience — you need this and that to have success,” former Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said on a video call Monday. “At times, you need it, but there’s a lot of times that it’s easier to go in fresh. You don’t overthink it, you just go out and play. You see a lot of goalies have success early on in the playoffs because they don’t feel as much pressure, they don’t overthink it, they don’t try to figure out everything.”
Shesterkin, who cast a calm and confident demeanor in speaking with reporters earlier that day, would seem to fit that category.
Without a translator present, Shesterkin leaned back in his chair and spoke succinctly. Asked whether he felt any extra pressure playing in the postseason, he replied: “Right now, no.”
Steve Valiquette recounted how Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire would tell him and Lundqvist to keep their bubbles small — a way of dealing with the pressure that playing on Broadway brings. That doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for Shesterkin. He said Monday he hasn’t even spoken to Lundqvist ahead of the postseason, but he has talked with Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin, a longtime friend.
“I think he lives his life, he’s focused on the game, but then away from the game he focuses on friends, family,” said Lundqvist, who will provide analysis on MSG Network throughout the first-round series. “That’s healthy to your game, not to get carried away in this city. There’s a lot of people that want a piece of you and do this and do that and it all comes down to your personality, too. What you want to do. But in the end, it comes down to, be ready when you come to the rink.”
Shesterkin, by any measure, has done that all year. When Valiquette, who doubles as CEO of ClearSight Analytics in addition to his work with MSG, dug into the numbers, he found something as remarkable as it is unsurprising.
Shesterkin has excelled against breakaways, rebounds, broken plays and East-to-West plays. Those happen to be all the ways that the Penguins like to score.
“He’s really remarkable, he’s fascinating,” Valiquette said. “He over-performs every single chance type that I looked at today and they’re really in line with what strengths Pittsburgh does have.”
For a player who leads the league in essentially every relevant statistical category for goaltenders, that does make sense. So too does Lundqvist’s ultimate feeling about how Round 1 will go for his successor.
“I think he’ll handle it fine,” Lundqvist said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism