Vasilevskiy-Shesterkin matchup in East Final has teammates picking sides

GREENBURGH, NY– Barclay Goodrowlike everyone else with the Tampa Bay Lightning and beyond, has touted Andrei Vasilevsky as the best goalie in the world, the only one you’d want in your net in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oh, how that narrative has changed for Goodrow.

“I’ll take ‘Shesty’ all day,” he said.

Of course, he will take Igor Shesterkin. Goodrow is in his first season as a forward with the New York Rangers after winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning the past two years, so he has to go with his guy.

It’s not like anyone can say he’s dead wrong either, especially considering the season the Rangers goalie has had and how he’s performed in the playoffs to date.

We’ll know soon enough if Goodrow is right and if Vasilevskiy will have to hand over the best-in-the-world moniker to Shesterkin.

The goalie matchup is the main storyline and talking point heading into the Eastern Conference Final between the Rangers and Lightning. Game 1 is at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 pm ET; ESPN, SN, CBC, TVAS).

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]

“The best two goalies in the world are playing against each other,” Rangers forward Chris Kreider said.

Vasilevskiy is the incumbent, the back-to-back Stanley Cup winner, as close to a sure thing as there is in the NHL.

“We know what we have in our guy,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.

Vasilevskiy is coming off a four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Second Round, when he allowed three goals on 154 shots for a 0.75 goals-against average and .981 save percentage. He is 8-3 with a 2.22 GAA and .932 save percentage through two rounds this postseason. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season voted as MVP of the playoffs, when he was 16-7 with five shutouts, a 1.90 GAA and .937 save percentage.

Video: FLA@TBL, Gm3: Vasilevskiy makes save on Mamin

Since the 2020 playoffs, Vasilevskiy is 42-17 with seven shutouts, a 1.96 GAA and .932 save percentage. He has quickly become one of the best goalies in playoff history, with his .925 save percentage tied for third with Dominik Hasek, Tuukka Rask and Jean-Sebastien Gigeure among goalies who have played at least 50 games.

“It’s the same as usual,” Vasilevskiy said. “I have to step up and show them my best game.”

Shesterkin does too. It should be expected by now since his play has put him in the best conversation in the world. He was 36-13-4 with a 2.07 GAA, .935 save percentage and six shutouts in the regular season and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy given to most valuable player and top goalie in the NHL, respectively.

Shesterkin has never been a Stanley Cup winner like Vasilevskiy, but he’s the biggest reason why the Rangers are halfway there, winning eight of his 14 playoff starts with a 2.68 GAA and .928 save percentage. He is 7-3 with a 2.09 GAA and .939 save percentage since Game 5 of the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, including 5-0 with a .930 save percentage in elimination games.

“An underrated thing is how he understands the game,” Rangers forward Ryan Strome said. “His hockey IQ is I would say one of the highest on our team and I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a goalie on my team before, with all due respect. What I mean by that is he’s able to read the play so intelligently and anticipate where the puck is going to be and that helps him a ton, obviously.

Video: NYR@CAR, Gm7: Shesterkin blocks one-timer with toe

But Shesterkin is playing catchup to Vasilevskiy. The Lightning goalie is 17 months older (Vasilevskiy was born on July 25, 1994; Shesterkin on Dec. 30, 1995) and has already played 265 more regular-season games (365-100) and 77 more playoff games (92-15) . He won the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 and was a finalist three other times, though not this season.

Of course, Vasilevskiy has also won the Stanley Cup twice and the Conn Smythe Trophy.

“Vasilevskiy has his track record, speaks for himself,” Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said. “I think Shesty does too. What he’s done this year is insanely impressive, definitely two good goalies coming together and I have a lot of faith in Shesty.”

Adding to the narrative is they know each other too. Shesterkin was the third-string goalie for Russia in the 2017 IIHF World Championship. Vasilevskiy was the No. 1.

“I was on the bench,” the Rangers’ goalie said, smiling.

He’ll be in the other net on Wednesday, trying to push the Rangers past the two-time defending champions and end the Lightning’s streak of 10 straight series wins, and to maybe take the best in the world moniker at the same time.

The one problem, Vasilevskiy has shown zero signs of letting it go.

“He’s the best goalie in the world right now,” Shesterkin said.

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