Back in net
The Conference Finals were the equivalent of the Finals as it featured the two best teams in the KHL. SKA St. Petersburg took on their archrivals, first place CSKA Moscow. Only three points separated the two teams in the regular season standings with SKA scoring more goals and CSKA allowing fewer tallies.
Magnus Hellberg started the first game and took the loss, a 2-1 loss in Moscow. SKA had jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but Hellberg gave up two goals on 12 shots. That loss was the impetus for SKA to get Shesterkin back in net. Shesterkin ended up starting every game the rest of the series, won by CSKA in seven games.
The second game of the series was scheduled for March 30 and Shesterkin had last played on March 2 in the Quarterfinals. Despite the rust, Shesterkin got the start and SKA lost the second game 3-1 Although he took the loss, the young Russian was back in net for SKA’s victory in Game Three, a 2-1 overtime thriller. SKA knotted the series 2-2 with a 3-1 win in Game Four and dropped Game Five 3-0 in Moscow. They forced a seventh game with a 3-2 win in Game Six. Nikita Gusev scored the go ahead goal with just under six minutes into the third period and Shesterkin shut down CSKA the rest of the way.
The home team won every game in this series and with Game Seven in Moscow, CSKA won 3-1. Shesterkin allowed two goals including a first period power play tally. He made 21 saves, but SKA could never tie the score and CSKA sealed the win with an empty net goal.
In the series, in six games, Shesterkin allowed 11 goals, eight at even strength, on 128 shots for a .914 save percentage and a 1.79 goals against average.
It’s easy to assume that Shesterkin was replaced for inferior play in the first round of the KHL playoffs, but that was not the case. He was sidelined by a suspension and it was the excellent play of Magnus Hellberg that resulted in Shesterkin riding the bench.
It’s even easier to assume that Shesterkin was outplayed when you look at the record of the two goalies. In 10 games Hellberg had a 7-2 record with a .919 save percentage and a 1.68 GAA. Compare that to Shesterkin’s nine games with a 4-5 record, a .904 save percentage and a 2.95 GAA.
The important thing to note is that when the competition was the best and SKA was in a 1-0 hole to CSKA, Coach Vorobyov went with Shesterkin despite him going 27 days between starts. And despite taking the loss in his first game back, Vorobyov stayed with him for the rest of the series.
Let’s put an end to the narrative that Shesterkin failed in the KHL playoffs last season. The good news is that when the NHL is ready to resume and if the Rangers are in that three game play-in series, they will have a young, but seasoned playoff goalie in net.