While Igor Shesterkin deserved to be the Rangers’ No. 1 netminder heading into this unique qualifying round against the Carolina Hurricanes, there was a swath of Rangers fans — myself included — who couldn’t help but want to come along for one last ride of playoff hockey with Henrik Lundqvist driving the bus.
Alas, the wish was granted due to an undisclosed injury Shesterkin suffered prior to Game 1 on Saturday, opening the door for Lundqvist to begin writing a storybook ending of one last gasp as the face of the only franchise he’s known for 15 years.
But through two games with Lundqvist at the helm, the Rangers are now facing elimination following back-to-back losses against the Hurricanes, including a 4-1 loss in Game 2 Monday that saw some so so goals surrendered by Lundqvist.
It hurts to write, but Lundqvist’s time should come to an end Tuesday, and if Shesterkin remains out, the nod should be given to Alexandar Georgiev, who has more than earned the opportunity to start a playoff game following two strong seasons on Broadway.
Again, this is not a slight against Lundqvist, who was superb in Game 1 and did what he could in Game 2 against a Hurricanes team that has clearly exhumed its demons against a Rangers team — including Lundqvist himself — that has utterly dominated it over the last handful of seasons.
But this is more of a reward for Georgiev, as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet in hockey, for his hard work as a Ranger, and starting him can also serve as a way to shake the team up. The 24-year-old, whom the Rangers signed as a free agent out Finland in the summer of 2017, has built his game over the last three seasons in North America and could push his way into a starting role in the NHL (especially after watching some goaltending performances through the first two days of this qualifying tournament) next season, if it is not in New York.
This does not constitute a panic move by David Quinn and his staff. Heading into the series, the argument could — and maybe should — have been made that Georgiev was more than deserving of being in the conversation to be one of the team’s top two goalies following the pause because of the trust the staff instilled in him, and his ability to keep his team in games.
He was the consummate pro following Shesterkin’s recall in January, saying all the right things whenever he was the odd-man out, watching in street clothes from the press box on most nights as Lundqvist served as the backup. It was clear that Lundqvist was the face of the franchise, and that Igor was “the next one”, but Georgiev showed up to work every day, and had many strong performances for his team.
Calling on Georgiev does put him in a difficult spot, trying to extend a most unique season at least another day, not to mention it could certainly close the book on Lundqvist’s career as a Ranger. There are other moves Quinn could make — inserting Brendan Lemieux in after his two-game suspension, giving 2018 first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov a look — to try and change his and his team’s fortunes against a Carolina team that has stifled New York’s offense and exposed its deficiencies on the blueline.
But Georgiev deserves a chance to lead this team, even if just for one night, even at the expense of a legend.