The series stands at 2-1, and the New York Rangers are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Pittsburgh Penguins can steal another one away tonight, the light is fading for Rangers hopefuls.
This series has been dramatic, to say the least. It has featured tenacity and grit, multiple calls reported to Toronto for video review, and goaltenders being pulled and switched due to injury. The latter is the most interesting of this series, in my opinion.
The performance by Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin in game 3 is undoubtedly the most significant question mark for the Rangers at the moment. Can he recover in such a quick turnaround and be the rock that this Rangers team expects him to be?
Disaster in Game 3
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Rangers did in game 3 . PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh was electric, and the Penguins just fed on all of that energy. Shesterkin, who made his first Stanley Cup Playoff start outside of Madison Square Garden, was picked apart in his only period of play.
There was that awful opening goal, just 117 seconds into the game, bouncing off of Rangers d-man Patrik Nemeth. There was a glimpse of hope when Kaapo Kakko scored his first career playoff goal some minutes later, but that was about it for supporting Shesterkin in the first period. The Penguins scored on back-to-back powerplays and dug the hole to 3-1. Pittsburgh forward Evan Rodrigues scored the latter of the two powerplay goals and would seal Shesterkin’s fate by potting another goal at the 15:15 mark. The final stat-line was 11 saves on 15 shots, and it just seemed that Shesterkin was out of it from the jump.
He was indecisive with the puck and often out of position for easier saves. It seemed that the crowd chanting “I-GOR” was getting to him early, and that opening goal set the tone for the rest of the period. Pulling Shesterkin was the right call, and giving him the rest of the night off may keep the Rangers in this series. It all depends on tonight, of course, how this team responds, and ultimately how Shesterkin responds.
Success Rests On #31’s Shoulders
It all comes down to Shesterkin. The Ranger’s best and only chance of winning the series back in their favor is giving their number one goaltender help. If he gets rocked in the early going, you might as well seal the series, and the 2021-22 season, as a failure.
But, this is where Shesterkin plays at his best. After getting blasted and losing a start, he has notoriously come back in his next start with a much better performance. On several occasions this season, he has given up three, four, or even five goals and led the Rangers back to a shutout a few days later in his next start between the pipes.
It has even happened against these Pittsburgh Penguins. On March 22, the Rangers were led by their number one goaltender against the New Jersey Devils and was pulled after allowing five goals in 40 minutes. The next start was against Pittsburgh, and he made 20 saves on 21 shots in the Ranger’s 5-1 victory. And then, on April 3, the Rangers lost a close one to the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout, 4-3. Shesterkin then sat the next matchup against the Devils before playing once again against the Penguins on April 7. He shut them out, saving all 30 shots he faced by Evgeni Malkin and company.
The Rangers have to keep the puck down at the other end. Shesterkin has faced 139 shot attempts already in this series. Giving him a chance to settle into this game with an easier opening period will give them the best chance at victory.