Without Igor Shesterkin, the New York Rangers will need Henrik Lundqvist

Igor Shesterkin, Henrik Lundqvist

Now that Igor Shesterkin is out for a few weeks, it may be Henrik Lundqvist’s time to take the New York Rangers to the playoffs, once again.

On Sunday night, New York Rangers right winger Pavel Buchnevich and young phenom goaltender Igor Shesterkin were involved in a car accident in Brooklyn. Buchnevich made it out relatively unscathed: he missed the Rangers’ game against the New York Islanders on Tuesday but skated in the team’s optional skate on Wednesday, which is a great sign.

However, Shesterkin, who was driving the car, suffered a rib fracture and will be re-evaluated in a “couple of weeks” according to president John Davidson.

This was a blow to the Rangers: Shesterkin had been playing incredible hockey since his call-up in January. The 24-year-old goalie is 9-1-0 with a 2.23 GAA and a remarkable .940 SV%. It’s as though he transformed the team when he joined them.

He is the first goalie in history to have a .900 save percentage or better in all of his first 10 appearances since NHL started tracking saves in 1955. He is also the first to have four 40-save games as well as four 40-save wins in his first 10 games. Shesterkin brought newfound energy down to New York from Hartford: with 72 points, the Rangers are currently four points out of the second wild card.

Losing Shesterkin is devastating, but it doesn’t mean that the Rangers’ playoff hopes have flown out the window. Their forwards are still there and scoring goals, while the defense has improved over the past few months. They’re well-rounded but will look to someone to help carry them to the playoffs. Enter Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist has had it rough in New York, lately. He even admitted that last season was very hard for him because the team was bad and he wasn’t playing nearly as often as he had in the past, losing starting chances to Alexandar Georgiev.

Even though the Rangers are much better this year, Lundqvist still isn’t playing. The future Hall of Famer hasn’t started a game since Feb. 3 against the Dallas Stars, when he gave up four goals on 15 shots.

The Rangers had been rolling with a three-goalie rotation, but head coach David Quinn put an end to that when Shesterkin began to prove that he deserves to be the No. 1 goalie. Now that Shesterkin is out, Lundqvist has a chance to shine.

Georgiev started against the Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and Philadelphia Flyers, but Lundqvist will have to spell him at some point.

Lundqvist’s next start, whenever that may be, will be crucial. He will be given the chance to prove himself, that he can pick up where Shesterkin left off and lead this team to the playoffs, as he has done time and time again throughout his career.

When he spoke to the media on Monday, the 37-year-old said he’s going to sit down with management over the summer to discuss his future and what his role will be with the Rangers moving forward, but that now is not the time to think about it. He’s focused on winning games.

Even at 37, Lundqvist is capable of carrying the load. Although he has a 3.12 GAA and .907 SV% on the year, he was actually quite good in most other goaltending categories. Before Jan. 7, when the Rangers switched to the goaltending rotation, Lundqvist was ranked eighth in the NHL with a 1.03 SV% above expected. Until Feb. 3, Lundqvist was ranked fifth in the league with a 9.83 in goal differential, even outpacing stars like Jordan Binnington, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

His teammate, Georgiev, who has a better GAA and SV%, was 20th with a goal differential of 2.32. Lundqvist has poor numbers on the surface primarily because the vast majority of his starts this season came earlier on when the Rangers weren’t playing well. The team possessed the puck less, took fewer shots, and scored fewer goals when Lundqvist was in net as opposed to both Georgiev and Shesterkin.

Georgiev has been solid for the Rangers, especially in terms of stats such as GAA and SV%, but overall Lundqvist’s numbers are better. Georgiev has a -2.52 in goals saved above average (GSAA) and a -1.34 in goals saved above expectation (GSAx) as compared to Lundqvist’s -1.12 and 3.62, respectively.

Lundqvist needs to be given a chance to play behind this new and improved team. If they continue to perform as well as they have over the past month or so, he’ll get the job done. Lundqvist is not only one of the greatest goaltenders of all time, but also one of the greatest playoff goalies ever. He has a phenomenal 2.28 GAA and .922 SV% in 128 career playoff games.

If he can impress Quinn and the coaching staff in the next game he starts, he may get more playing time and can absolutely keep the Rangers’ race to the playoffs on track. If this does end up happening, what a story it’ll be for “The King” and his Rangers. It could be a remarkable achievement for him towards the tail end of his fairytale career.

He has defied the odds since he was drafted: He went from being an unknown seventh-rounder to an all-time great and has kept the Rangers more relevant this millennium than anyone. This team wouldn’t have had the success it did without him.

Few would’ve thought that Lundqvist would be one of the heroes this team needed but, alas, here they are. Another Henrik Lundqvist playoff run may be in the works, so get ready.

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