Henrik Lundqvist’s transfer to Igor Shesterkin as Rangers’ elite goalkeeper is complete.
At the NHL Awards Tuesday night in Tampa, Fla., Shesterkin was named the first Ranger since King Henrik to win the Vezina Trophy, replicating Lundqvist’s 2011-12 feat of being officially recognized as the league’s top goaltender. NHL after a historic season.
Shesterkin carried the Rangers to their first playoff appearance since 2017 with 36 regular season wins. They then reached the conference finals before losing to the Lightning 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 50-plus starts. He also led the league with a 2.07 goals-against-average, 44.9 goals-against-average and an adjusted goals-against-average of 2.11, according to Hockey Reference.
The 26-year-old Shesterkin beat Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Nashville’s Juuse Saros for the award, winning 29 of 32 first-place votes from the NHL General Manager Voting Panel. He is the sixth Rangers goaltender to win the Vézina, after Lundqvist, John Vanbiesbrouck, Eddie Giacomin, Gilles Villemure and Dave Kerr.
Shesterkin took advantage of his speech to thank his support network, including his teammates, goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, his parents and his wife, Anna. Noting Anna’s absence, he added that she couldn’t be in Tampa with him as the couple are expecting a child.
“For the entire Rangers organization, it’s amazing to be part of the Rangers family,” Shesterkin said. “To my friends, I want to thank all the Rangers fans. It was a dream to play [in the] NHL, to play in front of you at MSG. Incredible feelings.
As Lundqvist’s jersey was worn to the rafters at Madison Square Garden in January, Shesterkin had begun to write his own Rangers legacy in his first 82-game season as a starter for the team. Aside from two first-round blemishes against Pittsburgh, Shesterkin started and finished all 20 Rangers playoff games, with a .936 save percentage starting in Game 5 against the Penguins.
“They say Igor, I just say OK,” Shesterkin memorably said of Penguins fans chanting his name.
After the season ended, Shesterkin returned to the topic.
“The next team, the next Carolina fans tried to do the same [chant], but it doesn’t work for me,” he said. “I think it helped me focus more on the game.”
He joked at the time that he was unlikely to win the Hart Trophy alongside Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid. He ended up being right, as he didn’t win the MVP award, which was won by Matthews of Toronto.
“They are the best players,” Shesterkin said. “But I didn’t let Matthews score on me, I’m happy. I didn’t play against McDavid but every day I watched the highlights and the best players. How many did [Matthews] score? 60? It was exceptional.
Shesterkin, however, was in a class with them this season. According to MoneyPuck’s goals-against-above-expectations metric, Shesterkin’s 34.1 GSAx was the highest in the league despite playing 10 fewer regular-season games than second-placed Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I always try to [be at] my best, but when I lose, every time I only think about my goals and I know I can stop [them]Shesterkin said shortly after the season ended, his mind still focused on the Game 6 loss to Tampa Bay. “It doesn’t matter what happened. I conceded a really easy goal in the last game. So I can’t do it when we have an exhibition game.
“I always say I can play better. I can repeat it, I can play better.
Just two days after that loss, Shesterkin said he planned to rest for a few weeks and then start working again. Even then, however, he had some gratitude for the season that was.
“I want to thank Rangers fans and fans around the world,” Shesterkin said. “They helped me so much. You never know what’s gonna happen but when I give up a goal and everything [the crowd] chant my name, I stand up and try to hold my breath for this town, for these people.
Throughout the season, he heard these chants, growing louder until the end.
“Everyone knows my name,” he joked on the day of the breakup.
If they didn’t before, they certainly do now.