The handoff from Henrik Lundqvist to Igor Shesterkin in the Rangers’ mantle of elite goaltenders is complete.
On Tuesday night, Shesterkin became the first Ranger since King Henrik to win the Vezina Trophy, duplicating Lundqvist’s 2011-12 feat of being officially recognized as the league’s best goaltender following a historic season.
Shesterkin lifted the Rangers to their first playoff appearance since 2017 with 36 regular-season victories, as they went on to make the conference final before losing to Tampa Bay in six games. He set a franchise record with a .935 save percentage, which was also the third-highest mark in league history among goaltenders with over 50 starts. He also led the league with a 2.07 goals against average, 44.9 goals saved above average and a 2.11 adjusted goals against average, per Hockey Reference.
The 26-year-old Shersterkin beat out Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Nashville’s Juuse Saros for the award. All three would have been first-time winners.
As Lundqvist’s jersey was raised to the rafters last January, Shesterkin started to write his own Rangers legacy in his first 82-game season as the team’s starter. Aside from two blemishes in the first round against Pittsburgh, Shesterkin started and finished all 20 playoff games for the Rangers, with a .936 save percentage from Game 5 against the Penguins onwards.
“They say Igor, I just say OK,” Shesterkin memorably said of Penguins fans’ singsong chanting of his name.
After the season had ended, Shesterkin returned to the subject.
“The next team, next fans in Carolina tried to make the same [chant], but it doesn’t work for me,” he said. “I think it’s helped me more to focus on the game.”
Shesterkin, though, was in a class with them this season. According to MoneyPuck’s Goals Saved Above Expected metric, Shesterkin’s 34.1 GSAx was the most in the league despite his having played 10 fewer regular-season games than second-place Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I always try to [be at] my best, but when I lose, every time just thinking about goals and I know I can stop [them],” Shesterkin said a couple days after the season ended, his mind still focused on the Game 6 loss to Tampa Bay. “It doesn’t matter what’s happened. I give up a really easy goal in the last game. So I cannot do this when we have an exhibition game.
“I always say I can play better. I can say it again, I can play better.”
Just two days after that defeat, Shesterkin said he planned to rest up for a couple weeks, then start working again. Even in that moment, though, he had some gratitude for the season that was.
“I want to say thanks for Rangers fans and fans everywhere,” Shesterkin said. “They helped me so much. You never know what’s gonna happen, but when I give up a goal and all [the crowd] chants my name, I just stand up and try to hold my breath for this city, for these people.”
All through the season, he heard those chants, louder and louder until the end.
“Everybody knows my name,” he said, jokingly, at breakup day.
If they didn’t before, they certainly do now.
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