Igor Shesterkin sparkled under the blinding lights of Madison Square Garden, making 29 saves as the New York Rangers dropped the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 to grab a 2-0 series lead heading to Tampa Bay.
Mika Zibanejad was also stellar on the night, notching the game-winning goal in the third period, while the Rangers' Kid Line swarmed the Lightning with a relentless forecheck, as the Rangers are now just two wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from Saturday’s Game 2 action from the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning began the game as the more composed team, dictating the pace of play early, but the Rangers refused to break despite the pressure. Things looked dicey early on, as Tampa earned a powerplay just under three minutes in off of an undisciplined Ryan Reaves-Pat Maroon skirmish that put the Rangers down a man.
The Bolts struck almost immediately, as Nikita Kucherov notched his fifth of the postseason on the powerplay, clearly looking as though they would draw upon their playoff experience and ultimately even the series.
The Rangers, however, kept their youthful exuberance high, quickly responding by finding their legs and taking control of the game shortly thereafter. K’Andre Miller knotted things up for the Blueshirts just three minutes after Kucherov’s marker, opening the floodgates for the Rangers to take command.
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) June 4, 2022
Not long after, the high-flying Rangers drew a pair of penalties midway through the first frame, swinging the momentum dramatically. That set things up for the scorching hot Kid Line, as Filip Chytil skated through the offensive zone before passing it off to blueliner Adam Fox. The former Norris winner drew in both Lightning defenders, then placed a gorgeous dish onto the tape of Kaapo Kakko to give the Rangers a lead they would carry into the intermission.
— Jonny Lazarus (@JLazzy23) June 4, 2022
After a solid second period, Fox would pick up another assist in the third period after slipping a nice pass to Mika Zibanejad, who fired a laser beam past Vasilevskiy. The hometown hero had one of his strongest games of the entire postseason, driving play in the right direction throughout the night while putting some key points up on the board in an enormous victory for the Rangers.
After a goalless second period, the #Rangers score with a filthy Zibanejad shot off the post in the third 🚨
🏒 #Lightning ▶ 1
🏒 #Rangers ▶ 3#GoBolts | #NoQuitInNY#NHLTwitterpic.twitter.com/Om8vE2k6is
— Betfred Sports (@BetfredSports) June 4, 2022
After winning the Norris Trophy last season, Adam Fox somehow went under the radar this season due to explosive seasons from others such as Cale Makar and Roman Josi. Make no mistake about it, however, Adam Fox is unquestionably one of the most creative and talented defencemen the league has to offer. The Rangers leaned heavily on their workhorse, and he paid them back handsomely with some stellar play. Fox led all Rangers defencemen in puck possession, and was just one tick behind Jacob Trouba for the most ice time amongst Rangers defencemen with 25:12.
While the Lightning have been known for their ability to bounce back, dating back to their 2020 cup run, the Bolts looked about as disengaged as they’ve been throughout this entire playoff run.
The second period, in particular, may have been their worst period of these playoffs, and if not for the strong play of Andrei Vasilevskiy, things could’ve gotten out of hand quickly.
Vasilevskiy himself was by no means impenetrable, as rebounds flew all over the crease and pucks permeated the netminder but failed to find the twine. It was clear, however, that in the biggest moments, especially with the Lightning down a man, the Big Cat was there for his teammates.
Overall though, it was all Rangers for the majority of the second frame, which at the 12-minute mark saw the Rangers balloon their lead in shots to 12-3 while growing their lead in second-period shots over the two games to 29-13.
The Lightning finally found their way to Shesterkin with just over five minutes remaining in the period, but by that point, the 26-year-old had already found himself locked in, and with "Igor" chants pouring in from the stands, the netminder slammed the door shut.
Igor Shesterkin has a .946 SV% and has stopped 12 goals above expected over his last 10 games.
He's a freak.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) June 4, 2022
The Lightning finally woke up for the third period, but facing one of the few goalies in the league that could match their own netminder’s excellence, the Lightning simply lacked the answer to the riddle that was Igor Shesterkin on Friday night, save for a late marker from Nick Paul.
The Moscow native didn’t need to be as sharp as he was for the Rangers in game one, but he was still everything and more than the Blueshirts needed, as he helped propel them to their first 2-0 series lead of the postseason.
Passing the Torch
Igor Shesterkin truly was the story of the game, and as Sportsnet announcer Harnarayan Singh so eloquently put things, he put on a Broadway production of his own.
Chants of “Igor’s better” rang throughout the Garden as the night wore on, as the Rangers faithful watched Vasilevsky pass the torch in real-time to the new best goalie in the National Hockey League.
Shesterkin’s magnificence was particularly on display during the final moments of the game with the Lightning net empty. The Bolts had all the pressure and all the momentum as they tried desperately to find the goal they needed to square the game back up and push the game into overtime.
Despite the barrage of chances, however, nothing seemed to phase the presumptive Vezina winner to be, as Shesterkin stonewalled the Bolt’s cavalcade of snipers and helped send the Big Apple crowd home with a pep in their step.
With the loss, Vasilevsky finally falls in back to back games, moving to 17-1 in games following a loss since the 2020 postseason. On the other hand, the Rangers victory is their eighth straight on home ice.
Game 3 goes Sunday afternoon at 3:00 PM EST from the Sunshine State. Tampa will look to claw back in the series in what will undoubtedly be a must-win game, and the most important game of their season thus far.
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