NEW YORK -- The Eastern Conference finals showdown pitting Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers against Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning is a matchup between what many believe are the two best goalies in the world.
Who's the best? Shesterkin humbly concedes that it's not him. At least not yet.
"He's the best goalie in the world right now," the Rangers netminder said. "I think it'll be a good battle."
Vasilevskiy is the more accomplished of the two. He led the Lightning to back-to-back Stanley Cups and won playoff MVP honors last postseason. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender in 2018-19 and led the NHL in wins for five straight seasons. He's considered one of the NHL's greatest postseason goalies of all time, including shutouts in six of the last 10 games in which the Lightning have eliminated an opponent.
At 26, Shesterkin is only a year younger than Vasilevskiy. While the Lightning goalie made his NHL debut as a 20-year-old for Tampa Bay, Shesterkin didn't grace NHL ice until he was 24. He has a long way to go to match his countryman's accomplishments, but he's gaining traction: Shesterkin is expected to win his first Vezina Trophy this season after leading the league in save percentage (.935) and goals-against average (2.07) and ended up earning a nomination for the Hart Trophy as regular-season MVP.
While his first postseason run had its bumps -- like getting pulled twice in Pittsburgh during the first round -- Shesterkin posted consecutive Game 7 wins to propel the Rangers to the conference finals, including a 36-save performance to eliminate the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.
"Obviously, our goaltender was once again our best player," said forward Chris Kreider, who scored twice in the victory.
The two Russian goalies know each other, but they're acquaintances at best.
"No, not too close," Shesterkin said.
They were teammates, briefly, with the Russian national team in 2016-2017.
"I was on the bench," Shesterkin joked, when asked if they played together.
Now, they'll be at opposite ends of the ice for the conference finals, starting Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden (8 ET, ESPN and ESPN+). Vasilevskiy leads the playoffs with a .932 save percentage (minimum 10 games); Shesterkin is right behind him at .928.
"Obviously, Vasilevskiy has a track record that speaks for itself. But I think Shesty has one that does too. What he's done this year has been insanely impressive," Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said. "Two good goalies coming together. But I have a lot of faith in Shesty."