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Igor Shesterkin's Playoff Debut Was All You Could Ask For

Imagine facing 83 shots on your playoff debut. That's what Igor Shesterkin had to do, and after that performance – mixed with his incredible Vezina-caliber regular season – the Rangers have a weapon to fight back and win this series.
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Imagine facing 83 shots on your playoff debut.

Among them are seven from Sidney Crosby, six from Evgeni Malkin and eight from Jake Guentzel. 

Imagine making 79 saves in a game. And losing.

That's the tough reality for Igor Shesterkin, who had one of the greatest debuts ever seen by a goaltender, only for it to mean nothing in the end. No points. Instead, only an early deficit. And with little room for error in the coming days.

Shesterkin will say his personal performance doesn't matter. Before Game 1, he said ""Not bad. I can play better," regarding his season that saw him post a .935 save percentage, one of the best in NHL history, and just the third goalie to do so after playing at least 50 games. 

But if that's the quality goaltending the Rangers are going to be getting the rest of the way, you can bet your butt it's going to matter. A lot.

There's a lot made every year about playoff experience. When it comes to goaltenders, it's typically the opposite. Just ask Joonas Korpisalo. Korpisalo's 88 saves in 2020 against Tampa Bay were the most faced by a goalie in a single playoff game, with Shesterkin's 83 good for second.

You don't know what you don't know, and Shesterkin has always been good at keeping the nerves down. That's why he's the runaway Vezina Trophy favorite, and the key to winning this series for the New York Rangers.

The Rangers are the higher-seeded team in this matchup, but the Penguins have the experience. And when Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang are still key parts of the lineup, that's a tough group to crack, no matter the context. Shesterkin didn't win the first battle, but the war has just begun. 

""He's been an MVP," Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said before Game 1. And in that game, he certainly was. Lots of experts believe more in Pittsburgh due to their experience, while the Rangers are still a relitivately new core that is just begining its competitive era. The Penguins are one of the oldest teams in the league - the Rangers are near the bottom.

And absolutely full marks to the Penguins. Shesterkin may have made nearly 80 stops, but the Penguins managed to absolutely blow out the shot count despite a rough start to the game. They came ready, and deservedly won Game 1.

To put a more analytical sense as to just how good his Game 1 was, Shesterkin had an expected-goals against of 7.5 -- that's usually reserved for later in a round. Casey DeSmith, his counterpart at the other end, had a xGA of 2.8, according to Natural Stat Trick. He played incredible himself, but Shesterkin truly had the tougher workload with 68 saves at 5-on-5.

From the get-go, this series looked like one of the tougher ones around. These two teams didn't finish far apart in the standings and had aspects of their games that could counter-balance each other. Plus, there's no lack of skill around. Once -- if -- Tristan Jarry returns to Pittsburgh, the supposed goalie gap will close slightly more. Shesterkin will need to continue playing like he did all year long.Shesterkin was given a week off between games, and that went a long way for the New York Marathon we saw Tuesday evening. 

Shesterkin was given a week off between games, and that went a long way for the New York Marathon we saw Tuesday evening. The Rangers can beat just about anyone in their own division, and once you win the first round -- often viewed as one of the hardest, most-competitive rounds to win in the first place -- anything can happen. It's a good thing the Rangers have the best goalie in the league on their side because the path out of the first round is half the challenge of the post-season.

The Rangers will fight back as much as they possibly can. And Shesterkin will fight the charge. It was just one game, but there was promising signs all around. And that's all you can ask for.

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