TAMPA — It didn’t take long for buzz to build about the matchup between Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and Rangers counterpart Igor Shesterkin in this year’s Eastern Conference final.
Shesterkin, 26, is a Vezina Trophy frontrunner after posting a stellar regular season (36-13-4) that has bled over into the postseason (with back-to-back Game 7 wins in the first two rounds).
After Monday’s clincher against Carolina, Shesterkin praised Vasilevskiy for what he has accomplished in his eight-year career (two Stanley Cups, a 2021 Conn Smythe playoff MVP honor and a 2019 Vezina win).
“He’s the best goalie in the world right now,” Shesterkin said. “It will be a battle.”
“I’m the young guy still,” Vasilevskiy, 27, joked. “I mean, he’s like what, just two years younger than me, so not much difference. Obviously, it’s the same as usual. I just have to step up and show him my best game.”
Stepping up hasn’t been an issue for Vasilevskiy against some top goalies in the past two postseason runs, including a showdown with Carey Price in last year’s Stanley Cup Final against the Canadiens.
“(The Rangers are) very similar in the sense that it’s very tough to beat them, to score low on them,” Lightning left wing Alex Killorn said. “You kind of have to get in their way. They have to not be able to see the puck. You have to make it really difficult on them. (Shesterkin’s) obviously a very high-class goalie. We’ve seen these playoffs he’s been able to play well.”
Brandon Hagel still questionable
Lightning forward Brandon Hagel made a brief appearance at Tuesday’s practice.
While some of the team worked on the power play at Amalie Arena, Hagel came out and sat on the bench to watch. As practice prepared to start, he skated briefly before coming back to the bench and talking with coach Jon Cooper and head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan. Then he went down the tunnel.
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Hagel didn’t return to the ice until practice was over, working with assistant coach Derek Lalonde on passing and making quick turns with the puck.
Hagel missed all three of the team’s previous practices with a “rest day” designation; he took a few hard hits in the second round against the Panthers but the Lightning never disclosed a possible injury. On Sunday, Cooper said he anticipated Hagel back in time for Wednesday’s Game 1.
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