The Igor Shesterkin who is favored to win the Vezina Trophy showed up again Wednesday night with the season on the line.
Once again, he was the goaltender who led the Rangers to a surprising second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division and the difference-maker who some felt could lead them on a big postseason run.
“He made some real key saves,” coach Gerard Gallant said after the Rangers extended their season at least two more days with a 5-3, Game 5 win at the Garden over the Penguins. “He battles, he plays the puck real well.”
Early on, the 26-year-old Shesterkin kept the Rangers in it, coming up big as they were significantly outplayed. And once the Rangers went ahead early in the third period, he closed the door. He finished with 29 saves, atoning for being pulled from a pair of shaky performances in Pittsburgh, where he allowed a combined 10 goals on 45 shots as the Rangers lost Games 3 and 4.
History did not repeat itself at the Garden. Shesterkin performed like a star, limiting rebounds and making big saves throughout the evening. The “Igor, Igor, Igor,” chants started before the opening faceoff and were heard through most of the night. He played much more like he did as the Rangers split the first two games, when he stopped 118 of 124 shots for a .952 save percentage. He had 15 saves in the final period Wednesday and shut out the Penguins over the final 21:54.
The night did start ominously. Just 24 seconds in, the Penguins had a 5-on-3 power play. But the penalty kill and Shesterkin were up to the challenge, killing it off and setting the tone.
“It was a big part of the game, honestly,” Gallant said.
So was his goalie, who picked himself off the mat after he was humbled on the road. In doing so, he gave himself a chance for redemption in front of the rowdy Penguins fans at PPG Paints Arena on Friday night.