It is what the Rangers expect, and it is what has made them so good all year.
There is little new they can say about it, thus their tendency to reply to questions about Igor Shesterkin by simply saying he’s done the same thing for them all season.
But that does not stop Shesterkin from continuing his ascendency to superstardom. It does not stop the Garden crowd from serenading him. And it does not help opponents to score. Not in the slightest.
Shesterkin was again superlative in the Rangers’ 4-1 Game 4 victory over the Hurricanes, setting the tone early with a slide across his crease to get a glove on Brett Pesce’s shot. He finished with 30 saves, a victory and 18,006 patrons chanting his name. That is what the Rangers have come to expect from a player all but guaranteed to take home the Vezina Trophy this season.
“Same thing every night,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Helps our team, battles. I think it was the second shift of the game, he made that save on the backdoor with his glove and that’s huge for us to get the lead and him making those saves early in the game.”
The Rangers got a brief glimpse of what life without a star goaltender looked like with their two blowout losses to the Penguins in which Shesterkin was pulled. Since then, the ship has more than steadied.
After Game 4 against the ‘Canes, Shesterkin has a .939 save percentage since getting pulled amid the Game 4 disaster in Pittsburgh. That is, by a hair, better than his .935 mark which led the league during the season.
Against a Carolina team whose strategy is to shoot the puck at anytime and anyplace, the Rangers have needed that. Though really, they have needed that all season.
And again and again and again, Shesterkin has delivered.
Following Tuesday’s game, Gallant was asked whether Shesterkin being in such a zone could make the difference in the series.
“He’s been in that zone from Day 1 since I’ve seen him,” he said. “Obviously every team in the league looks at a guy like Igor. He’s an outstanding goalie. He’s a big part of our group.”
In short: yes.
“It seems like every game, he’s always making those huge saves,” Ryan Lindgren said.
For almost any other player in almost any other circumstance, that would be hyperbolic. For the Rangers and for Shesterkin, it is a matter of fact.
Even when Shesterkin is not the story of the night — and in a Game 4 that the Rangers dominated following Jacob Trouba’s hit on Max Domi, he wasn’t — he rarely deviates from what has become the norm. Even a 120-foot pass that hits the target, like the one he made to spring the Rangers on a rush Tuesday, is not out of the ordinary.
“He’s always so steady back there,” Lindgren said. “Especially as a defenseman, we always talk about the way he handles the puck and the way he talks to us. Igor’s been great all year. He’s been great in the playoffs, too.”