After a second straight loss for Henrik Lundqvist, the latter of which even he'd admit was a subpar performance, a change in goal was coming either way. Quinn has to pull out all the stops for the first of (hopefully) three do-or-die games and looking for a spark between the pipes is a no-brainer move for any coach with options. The only question was whether it would be backup Alexandar Georgiev or rookie phenom Igor Shesterkin. Turns out the previously "unfit to play" phenom is ready to go tonight and give his Rangers a huge boost in making this a series.
In my matchup preview blog where I've been wrong about just about everything so far, I pointed out the significant advantage NY had in goal based on the assumption Shesterkin was the guy. He won 10 of his 12 starts, including 7 straight before a car crash sidelined him, while boasting a .932 save percentage despite seeing 35 shots per. Kid is an absolute stud and will be for the next decade. Pushed to the point where the Blueshirts have no room left for error, Igor is their only netminder with the current potential to throw the equivalent of three perfect games. Their infinitesimal chances are now slightly less infinitesimal.
Shesty can't score though - at least not until the net is empty. So Zib & Panarin are gonna have to figure out how to beat the Canes' relentless pressure and create more offense. According to NaturalStatTrick.com the Rangers have generated just 9 combined high-danger chances at 5x5 this series. That's less than they averaged per game all regular season. Defense isn't exactly this young squad's forte, so without a hint of their top guns possessing the puck more to keep it off Carolina sticks while testing a mediocre Mrazek they might as well just leave the bubble now. Their opponents are just as top-heavy offensively with Aho & Svech but they're actually getting it done. DJ ZBad and the Breadman have no choice but to win that battle tonight.
There's plenty more the Blueshirts can clean up all over the lineup, but when it comes down to it Quinn made it perfectly clear. Their best players have to be their best. If it comes down to a gaffe by Brendan Smith or someone who doesn't project into the long-term future, fans won't be happy but you can live with that when you remember this is still an incomplete young team. Having essential no-shows from a Hart nominee & your top center who buried 41 in 57 games, however, will leave a distinctly more sour taste this offseason.
Unless, of course, that offseason results in…