Igor Shesterkin gives Rangers edge in net for big Game 7

Igor Shesterkin gives Rangers edge in net for big Game 7

We all know about the Hurricanes’ fortress in Raleigh, NC, where they have gone 7-0 this postseason, but let me tell you, the Rangers are operating within a Fortress of Solitude on their side that might be of more value.

Because the Blueshirts will go into Game 7 on Monday night at Carolina with goaltender Igor Shesterkin providing a growing and dramatic disparity in net when measured against the suddenly floundering Antti Raanta, who was yanked very early in the second period of the Blueshirts’ 5-2 Game 6 victory at the Garden on Saturday night.

This second-round series may in fact come down to location, location, location. The relevant piece of property, however, might be not Carolina’s home arena, but rather the vicinity around the nets at either end of the rink. If the Rangers can press that advantage, a trip to the conference finals to take on the mighty Lightning will loom.

“Tonight was a very important game,” Shesterkin, apparently a master of the obvious in any language, said through a translator. “We had to win and that’s what we did.”

Shesterkin was all over the scoresheet, making 37 saves while picking up a pair of assists and a two minute minor for interference. That might have been the equivalent of a Ron Hextall hat trick.

“Honestly,” Artemi Panarin said through the translator, “it’s always great to have a goalie whose next step is to start scoring goals.”

Igor Shesterkin makes a diving save on Max Domi during the second period of the Rangers' 5-2 Game 6 win over the Hurricanes.
Igor Shesterkin makes a diving save on Max Domi during the second period of the Rangers’ 5-2 Game 6 win over the Hurricanes.
Jason Szenes

While Shesterkin was brilliant at his end, Raanta was not quite that, surrendering at least two, and maybe even three marginal goals on 13 shots before being pulled, with the Hurricanes down 3-0, just 3:24 into the second period, replaced by Pyotr Kochetkov.

Raanta, of course, ascended to the No. 1 job when Freddie Andersen went down on April 16 with a lower-body injury. It does not seem as if Andersen is game ready. Thus, the Rangers will go into this series’ ultimate confrontation with a notable edge in the sport’s most critical area.

Shesterkin’s impact Saturday was almost immediate. The netminder stopped Sebastien Aho on a breakaway at 7:04 and Teuvo Teravainen on the rebound moments before Tyler Motte beat Raanta from the high slot off the counter attack at 7:22 for the swing goal and 1-0 lead.

“What happened is I managed to predict [Aho’s] move there,” said Shesterkin, who has recorded a .937 save percentage and 2.10 goals-against average since the fifth game of the first round against Pittsburgh. “That gave me a burst or energy and that really goal motivated.

“I just tried to do my job and stay in the game.”

Igor Shesterkin makes one of his 32 saves in the Rangers' Game 6 victory.
Igor Shesterkin makes one of his 32 saves in the Rangers’ Game 6 victory.
Jason Szenes

The Rangers played a faster, more up-tempo brand of hockey in this one than they have at Carolina. They opened it up a bit, a bit more willing to trade chances than they had been in Raleigh. When you have Shesterkin on your side, you can do that.

Maybe the club also received a boost from the unexpected return of winger Barclay Goodrow, who hadn’t played since Game 1 of the first round against the Penguins, when he sustained a suspected ankle injury. Maybe it was seeing the Mika Zibanejad line untethered by Jordan Staal’s checking line. Maybe it was the reunification of the Kid Line.

If there was one reason, there were likely dozens. But the Blueshirts were as superior in this one as the Hurricanes were in their Game 5 victory on Thursday. There was a lull in the second period after Raanta was pulled and the final minutes of the period were a nervous time for the Blueshirts, who were pinned for shifts at a time for about the only time in the match.

It was then that Shesterkin picked up his interference penalty by obstructing Seth Jarvis in his pursuit of the puck. It was 4-2 at that point, after Chytil had struck again on a backhand before Vincent Trocheck was able to nudge home a loose puck from around the net.

“We were so tired in the zone at that time that he probably took that penalty just to get a whistle,” head coach Gerard Gallant said with tongue in cheek about Shesterkin. “No, he was outstanding.

“He did for us what he’s been doing for us all year.”

This one became nasty in the third period once Panarin scored the 5-2 goal on the power play at 7:43, with several scrums in front and in the corners. The Blueshirts stood up for one another—what else is new? — but never were undisciplined about it, even when ex-Ranger Tony DeAngelo mindlessly flipped the puck into the net well after a whistle and thus drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“I like a tough team and I like a tough game,” Gallant said. “But at this time of the year, discipline is the most important thing.”

Well, goaltending, too.

Game 7, Monday in Raleigh.

Rangers versus ‘Canes.

Shesterkin versus Raanta.

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