It doesn’t really matter all that much what David Quinn says about his upcoming goaltending rotation in contrast to what the coach does. So if he wants to talk about having confidence in all three of his goaltenders as Quinn did Tuesday morning, so be it.
Or were your feathers ruffled back in 2006 when Tom Renney refused to anoint Henrik Lundqvist as his No. 1 even as late as the Olympic break?
And I’ve told this story before, but do you know who, way back, talked about having, “Three No. 1 goaltenders?” Well, that would have been Al Arbour at the start of the 1977-78 season when his Islanders had Billy Smith, Chico Resch and, yes, Goran Hogosta as the netminding stable for a few weeks at the outset of the year.
Enough of words when actions speak louder than.
The Rangers are going to ride Igor Shesterkin the rest of the way, there is no doubt about that. Whether that means the 25-year-old rookie plays the next four straight, or maybe six or seven remains to be seen because there will be a need to get a game for Alexandar Georgiev, who has not played since March 19.
But the net is going to belong to Shesterkin just as surely as Tuesday’s game belonged to the goaltender, whose outstanding work allowed the Blueshirts to gain their equilibrium on Broadway en route to a 5-2 victory over the Caps after falling behind within the opening 4:22.
This could have been time to drop the Broadway curtain on the Blueshirts. But it was not. The show went on. The showstopper was Shesterkin, who turned away the final 28 shots he faced while the Rangers crept back into it with one goal in the second period and then poured four into the net in the third period for the second straight game against Washington.
Kaapo Kakko got one. Filip Chytil got one. Alexis Lafreniere was zipping about. Artemi Panarin was at the top of his game following a pedestrian weekend. Ryan Strome kept the beat moving. Adam Fox continued to walk on (frozen) water.
“Big win,” said Kakko, a man of few words. “That’s it.”
This was the Shesterkin whose promotion early last January triggered the Rangers to an immediate 16-6 run. This was the goaltender who allowed his teammates to puff out their chests and play with confidence. This was the goaltender who was missing the first couple of weeks of this season. But he is not missing in action any more.
“Obviously, Igor helped us a lot,” said Panarin, whose breakaway goal off a home-run feed from Brendan Smith increased the lead to 4-2 at 15:41 of the third. “He had an injury, fought through it, and then he came back and now he’s giving us confidence to play and come back from these situations.”
The only significant question pertaining to Shesterkin is his ability to stay healthy. He has been sidelined three different times with lower-body injuries over his brief NHL career, the latest a groin strain that kept him out of 10 games. But since he reappeared with last Thursday’s 8-3 victory in Philadelphia, he has been spry and sure while emitting the same aura he displayed a year ago.
It is not just the last three games. Indeed, over his 14 games since Jan. 28, Shesterkin has gone 8-6-0 with a .933 save percentage and 2.15 GAA. He has been as advertised. When goals go flying in from anywhere at any time, no team’s confidence can withstand that, and certainly not one as young as the Rangers. But when this club gets exemplary netminding, that’s a whole new ball of wax.
There was a flurry early in the second after Chytil’s breakaway goal at 15:36 of the first period narrowed the gap to 2-1. There was a stop on T.J. Oshie’s point-blank power-play drive from the slot with under 7:00 to play in the second. There were a handful of notable saves from in front with the Caps crashing. Shesterkin was resolute. So were the Rangers.
“Just how calm he is and how controlled he is,” Quinn said when asked what about Shesterkin impressed him the most. “How much confidence he has and how much confidence our team has in him.
“That certainly gives you a little bit of a leg up. I don’t care what level you’re at, you need good goaltending and we certainly got more than good goaltending tonight.”
If the Rangers are going to go on a run, they are going to have to be able to ride Shesterkin. Quinn knows that, even if he might be reticent to say as much.