Igor Shesterkin played in 73 regular season and playoff games during the 2021-22 season. But on Tuesday night, the Rangers goaltender recalled a moment that took place prior to the first of the Rangers' 102 regular season and playoff contests this season, and in a game which he did not play.
"In the first preseason game against the Islanders (on Sept. 26), I didn't play," Shesterkin recalled. "One small child showed me a picture with myself (that said) 'future Vezina Trophy winner.' … I think, 'why not? We have a good team for that.'"
Shesterkin officially turned "future Vezina Trophy winner" into "Vezina Trophy winner" on Tuesday, as he became the sixth goaltender in Rangers history to receive the award.
Shesterkin's confidence and self-belief are traits that have helped make him the exceptional goaltender that he is, and they were on display time and time again throughout the 2021-22 season. But it is difficult to imagine that even Shesterkin thought on that September day during the first preseason game that he would put up the kind of numbers he did this season.
Shesterkin's .935 SV% was the third-best single-season mark in NHL history by a goaltender who played at least 50 games, trailing only Tim Thomas (.938) and Dominik Hasek (.937). It also was the best save percentage in a season in Rangers history, breaking the previous record of .930 that was set by Shesterkin's boyhood idol, Henrik Lundqvist, during his Vezina Trophy-winning season a decade ago. Shesterkin's 2.07 GAA this season was also a league-best, and he limited his opponent to two goals or fewer in 32 of his 52 starts.
In addition to the statistics, Shesterkin's consistency this season provided many memorable moments that teammates, coaches, and fans alike will remember for years to come. It is impossible to select just one moment that Shesterkin had as a "defining moment" for his season; rather, it is the collection of moments that proved why Shesterkin was the rightful winner of the Vezina Trophy and a worthy finalist for the Hart Trophy.
Which Shesterkin moment stands out the most from this season? Was it his 40-save performance (including saves on all eight shots from Auston Matthews) in an early-season overtime win in Toronto? Was it his shutout against Columbus in which Blue Jackets' goaltender Elvis Merzlikins saluted him at the end of the game from the other end of the ice? Was it his dominant performances against some of the NHL's elite teams, such as a 42-save win against the Panthers or a 38-save shutout against the Lightning? Was it his masterful puckhandling and passing, on display time and again throughout the season, including his incredible assist in Game 6 of the First Round against the Penguins and almost scoring a goal against Ottawa in February? Was it the 79 saves he made in the triple-overtime game against the Penguins? Or maybe it was returning from the locker room after being removed from a game in overtime against Boston in February and leading the Rangers to a shootout win?
Yet with all the great moments he had throughout the season, perhaps Shesterkin's biggest impact in 2021-22 may have been the belief that he gave to the rest of his teammates. The players in front of Shesterkin knew that they were never out of a game, and that when the team needed a save, he would provide it. The Rangers' collective belief in their goaltender played a key role in enabling the team to have a franchise record 27 comeback wins during the regular season.
The "No Quit in New York" mantra that the team adopted and embraced was personified by Shesterkin on a nightly basis in 2021-22. His flash was matched by his work ethic. Shesterkin hated to give up a goal in any situation, even in practice, and was more determined after allowing a goal to come back and stop the next shot that came his way.
Between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs this year, Shesterkin was asked to evaluate his season. His response? "Not bad. I could play better." After receiving the Vezina Trophy on Tuesday night, Shesterkin talked about the Rangers' playoff run, saying that "it was a really good experience for us, and we will get stronger next season."
It is that mindset that will continue to push Shesterkin and the Rangers going forward, as they look to build on the success they had individually and collectively in 2021-22.