Igor Shesterkin let a shot at his first career shutout slip away midway through the third period Sunday night, but his grasp on becoming the Rangers’ No. 1 goalie just got even stronger.
The 24-year-old Russian put together another sterling effort in net, making 42 saves in a 4-1 win over the Kings at the Garden.
Just over a month since he was called up from the AHL and arrived to the Rangers, Shesterkin won for the fifth time in six starts. The ballyhooed goalie prospect has lived up to the lofty expectations set for him, strutting a quiet confidence with the results to back it up.
“If you’re going to be great, you better know you’re great, and he knows he’s great,” coach David Quinn said. “And for good reason. He’s got a track record that’s pretty impressive at a high level. Thinking you’re great isn’t ego. That’s confidence and that’s swagger, and he’s got all of that.”
And as the Rangers (27-23-4) move forward with their three-headed goalie situation, all while hanging on to an outside shot at the playoffs, Shesterkin keeps making his case to be the one consistently starting.
“The best guy’s going to continue to play,” Quinn said. “Keeping people sharp is no longer a high priority of ours. It’s going to be winning hockey games. The guy who plays well is going to keep playing.”
Shesterkin delivered on that Sunday while protecting a one-goal lead most of the night.
Greg McKegg gave the Rangers an early lead 2:23 into the first period before Kaapo Kakko scored what proved to be the game-winner midway through the third period. Filip Chytil set up Kakko’s eighth goal of the year — and his first in more than a month — with a slick backhanded pass from the corner, setting up Kakko for the one-timer out in front.
The Kings (19-33-5) robbed Shesterkin of a shutout less than two minutes later. The rookie lost an edge after going post to post tracking a pass, which allowed Trevor Moore to have plenty of net to work with when he sent one through to make it 2-1 at 10:47 of the third period.
But Shesterkin buckled down the rest of the way, calmly denying everything else sent his way in the final nine minutes. He was able to breathe a little easier when Artemi Panarin and Tony DeAngelo (empty-netter) added goals in the final three minutes.
“We feel confident with him,” defenseman Brady Skjei said. “He’s really good at swallowing pucks. The long shots, he kind of eats them up and not many rebounds. … From the moment he got here, he’s kind of had that swagger about him that a goalie needs. He’s definitely building on that confidence right now the way he’s playing.”
Shesterkin has now started six of the 13 games the Rangers have played since he arrived — posting a .933 save percentage — with Quinn sprinkling in starts for Henrik Lundqvist (three) and Alexandar Georgiev (four). But as the Rangers wrapped up a four-game homestand, it appears Shesterkin’s next challenge could be starting on the road for the first time in his career, perhaps as soon as Tuesday in Winnipeg.
“Just more of what we’ve been seeing [from Shesterkin] and more of what [the media has] been writing about for four years or however long ago he got drafted in anticipation and all those things,” Quinn said. “He holds it to 1-0 during a tight-checking game. … [The Kings are] big and strong and that’s a hard matchup for us. I thought we managed the game a lot better than we did the last few nights. It was a good win for us.”