August 11, 2022

The closest comparison Igor Shesterkin had to what he experienced on Tuesday night 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 intended to the KHL, but this … this was pretty different.

Good as the KHL may be, there is no Sidney Crosby to stand in your crease, trying to put home a rebound as the clock runs down in regulation and 18,006 fans at Madison Square Garden lose their collective minds.

Stopping Crosby ahead of the first overtime would account for one of the 79 saves Shesterkin made Tuesday night, when he performed the same feat he did for so many of his 53 regular-season starts and single-handedly kept the Rangers in Game 1 of their series against the Penguins before Evgeni Malkin broke the dam with the winner, deflecting John Marino’s shot to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 triple-overtime victory.

This time, Shesterkin’s heroics came with the franchise record for saves in a playoff game. Along with about 20 other superlatives.

Igor Shesterkin makes one of his 79 saves during the Rangers’ 4-3 triple overtime loss to the Penguins in Game 1.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

The only reason it got as far as triple overtime in the first place was because Shesterkin, after the Rangers dominated the opening 20 minutes, kept them in the game for the next 80.

He saved what might have been his best, and it is hard to pick, for the game’s biggest moments. Take your pick between save No. 59, a scrambling pad save to deny Bryan Rust from the low slot eight minutes into the second overtime, or No. 70 — to set a franchise record — on Kasperi Kapanen as time expired in the fifth period. Or the windmill glove save on Kapanen way back in the third period.

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“He’s done it all year. He’s our best player. He showed it tonight,” Ryan Strome said. “He made every [save] he had to do.”

Playoff experience, it turns out, can be overrated. Just ask The King.

“Sometimes, you talk so much about experience — you need this and that to have success,” Henrik Lundqvist, who so often did the same thing in the postseason for the Rangers before moving to the MSG studio, 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, already seems to have it all figured out.

Without a translator present, the Russian leaned back in his chair and spoke succinctly. Asked whether he felt any extra pressure playing in the postseason, he replied: “Right now, no.”

It is one thing to say that. It is another entirely to do it.

After a strong opening 20 minutes, the Rangers spent the rest of the game backsliding. Shesterkin spent it role-playing as Sisyphus.

He couldn’t stop the Penguins from getting the game to overtime. But, through a game that lasted deep into the night, he could keep it tied for long enough to give the Rangers every chance to win it.

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It’s never been a secret that the Rangers would need Shesterkin at his all-world best to have a chance in these playoffs, and it’s no surprise that he met the moment in Game 1.

“I think he’ll handle it fine,” Lundqvist said Monday.

After Tuesday, all you can do is nod your head along to that statement.