Two elite goaltenders, 84 combined saves, one magical night in hockey

TAMPA — You can make a compelling case that Igor Shesterkin is the best goalie on the planet.

Not yet, Lightning said.

You could argue that when it comes to mind-blowing saves and incredible reflexes, great movies favor the Rangers goalkeeper.

The scoreboard said, not today.

You could have a really heated debate that if you build an NHL team around goaltending, the best bet would be a young guy from Russia.

If you want to win don’t, said the Russian on the other side of the ice.

Well, Chargers goalie Andrei Vasilevsky didn’t actually say that. In fact, he said going head-to-head with Shestkin at the Amalie Arena on Thursday night would be no big deal.

Believe it or not, that’s not the point.Instead, just admire the way the two incredible goaltenders play off each other, as Vasilevski and The Chargers won 2-1.

Chargers center Anthony Cirelli (71 goals) hit Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31 goals) in the third quarter.
Chargers center Anthony Cirelli (71 goals) hit Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (31 goals) in the third quarter. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Then imagine these two stars competing again and again for years to come.

“It’s awesome competitiveness,” Chargers coach Jon Cooper said.

The debate is relatively new. Vasilevskiy, 28, has been one of the best goalies in the league for seven seasons, while Shesterkin, who turns 27 today, was only recently a star.

His numbers are a little better than Vasilevskiy’s since the start of the 2020-21 season, and he’s the defending champion of the Vezina Trophy, but those are gear compared to the real prize.

Vasilevski is a four-time Stanley Cup finalist, two winners and the Consmethe Trophy in 2021. And seven months ago, when the two teams competed for the Eastern Conference championship, it was Vasilevsky who came out on top.

“We were at the top of the conference finals last year,” said Chargers captain Steven Stamkos, who scored in one of two shootouts against Shesterkin on Thursday night.

“Two good goaltenders that allow their teams to play a lot of hockey when they’re not even playing their best. That’s what you need to win in this league, you need elite goaltenders. Last year we were four Two of the two teams, and two top teams this year, for a reason.”

Fans reacted after Andrei Vasilevskiy blocked the last field goal attempt and the Chargers beat the Rangers 2-1.
Fans reacted after Andrei Vasilevskiy blocked the last field goal attempt and the Chargers beat the Rangers 2-1. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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That was evident in the opening minutes of Thursday’s game. New York’s Vincent Trocheck broke at the start of the first quarter, and Vasilevskiy stopped him by aggressively moving forward and poking the ball out with his stick out.

It was the second of Vasilevskiy’s 45 saves, and each seemed to get better than the next. Filip Chytil backhanded the glove from a difficult angle in the second period, Julien Gauthier tried to slide out five holes, and there was a glove save at the net that was scored by Chytil midway through the third period.

On top of that, the Chargers had to kill off a penalty in the final three minutes of overtime.

“Tonight was a great game for the fans,” Vasilevski said later. “Front and back action. I’m glad we’re back in the locker room with W tonight.”

Vasilevski made five more saves in the six-round shootout, but that’s no surprise. The Chargers goalie has a career shooting record of 17-7 with a .781 save percentage.

Vasilevski, who played back-to-back nights after Wednesday’s win over Montreal, is 5-1 since mid-December and hasn’t conceded more than two goals in any game.

“I was fine until it was 4-3 in overtime. It was tough,” Vasilevskiy said. “But our (defensive guys) did a fantastic job. We only had five (defensive guys) on the field and they were solid.”

They must have faced a bigger payoff. There is no doubt that they will meet on a bigger stage in the future. So it was just another night, as Vasilevskiy said later?

Or does it really matter when two of the world’s top goalkeepers share the ice?

Cooper hesitated, then replied succinctly:

“yes.”

Contact John Romano jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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