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When Igor Shesterkin arrived in the NHL, he had big shoes skates to fill. The New York Rangers’ recent history had been dominated by Henrik Lundqvist, a world-class goaltender who grew from an unknown Swede into the face of the franchise. That could have been a crushing amount of pressure, but Shesterkin didn’t seem to mind. He stepped into the breach and, within two seasons, established himself as a star.

If you’ve watched both netminders, there are some ways in which the Russian has followed in Lundqvist’s footsteps. Both men are more than capable of handling the Big Apple spotlight, for example, and are more than capable of stealing a game anytime they take the ice.

But as the 2023 NHL Playoffs have progressed, Shesterkin has followed in Henrik’s steps in another way, and this one is much less positive.

Let’s break it down.

Igor Shesterkin is doing his part, but the New York Rangers are facing elimination after a meek Game 5

When you see a 4-0 NHL scoreline, it’s easy to think everyone on the losing team, including the goalie, had a bad night at the office. During Game 5 of the New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils series, though, Igor Shesterkin more than held up his end of the bargain.

The netminder did allow three goals on the night, but there are some mitigating factors. The Devils’ three tallies were each tough to stop for their own reasons — one deflected off a defenseman, another was a screened deflection during a New Jersey power play, and the third came on a two-on-one rush — and Shesterkin still made plenty of strong saves. He stopped 39 shots on the night and finished Game 5 with a .925 save percentage.

And what did the rest of the Rangers do? Not very much. The club only mustered 23 shots on Akira Schmid all night, including a measly two in the third period.

That reality didn’t seem lost on Shesterkin. Beyond his heroics in net, the goaltender put a shot on the New Jersey Net, skated out to the halfboards to pick up a loose puck, and, on one occasion, even headed to the Rangers bench during a TV time-out to share a few choice words with his teammates. The weight of the club was on his shoulders.

If you’re a New York Rangers fan, that will sound all too familiar.

The Rangers could never support Henrik Lundqvist, and now the same is happening to Shesterkin

The one gap in Henrik Lundqvist’s NHL resume is his lack of a Stanley Cup. That isn’t due to lack of trying or poor performance — he appeared in 12 postseasons and saved a shade over 92% of the shots he saw during those games — but the fact that hockey is a team sport. The Rangers, as a whole, were unable to get over the hump.

While it’s premature to compare Shesterkin to the legendary Swede, it seems like the Rangers have another world-class goalie. And, if the previous three games are any indication, he’s going to be enjoying an early summer vacation.

To be clear, losing some playoff contests isn’t a great moral failure. At the risk of pulling a Giannis Antetokounmpo, you can’t reduce an entire season to a few games. What is troubling, though, is the way the Rangers are folding after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead.

  • The Devils made an in-series adjustment, getting tougher at their blue line and clogging up the neutral zone. Whether you want to point the finger at the players or head coach Gerrard Gallant, the Rangers haven’t figured out how to deal with that.
  • The power play, which sustained the Blueshirts in their two wins, has gone ice cold.
  • The top six, despite being called out publicly by Gallant, is absent.
  • The Rangers have reverted to their worst form, looking like a disjointed group of stars playing on the perimeter rather than an actual team in the offensive zone.
  • There’s a simultaneous pressing — Ryan Lindgren was a bit aggressive on the Devils’ second goal, and Adam Fox overcommitted on the third — and lack of effort — Artemi Panarin didn’t really hustle to prevent the two-on-one that led to the Devils’ third tally — which, while contradictory, suggests the Rangers are feeling the pressure.
  • And on the subject of lack of effort, the fact that New York only mustered two shots on goal in the entire third period speaks for itself.

For years, the unofficial scouting report about the Rangers was that their postseason fortunes were dependent on Henrik Lundqvist playing out of his mind. Times have changed, but the same is holding true. Just plug Igor Shesterkin’s name in and call it a day.

The similarities were even noted on the Rangers’ postgame show. After looking at the clip of Shesterkin skating over to the bench in an attempt to rally his teammates, the studio crew — which includes Lundqvist — noted that goalies usually don’t do that. No one could remember a Blueshirt netminder doing it since the legendary Swede. It’s almost as if both men knew they were doing all they could but also knew that their best wasn’t good enough.

That’s where the similarities could end, though.

And while goalies are usually unique characters, it’s worth remembering that they don’t all want to be like Lundqvist and spend an entire career trying to lift a single franchise to the top of the mountain. Hank had a family, felt at home in New York, and meshed with the idea of being a Ranger. Is it possible that Shesterkin will want to stay in the Big Apple despite any postseason hiccups? Sure, but it’s also possible that he’ll seek greener pastures. Plenty of teams, after all, will be interested in a Vezina winner.

That’s all a long-winded way of saying that Rangers fans have seen the club fail to support a world-class goalie before. And while Henrik Lundqvist (largely) grinned and bared it, Shesterkin is under no such obligations.

Hang him out to dry at your own risk.

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