Andrei Vasilevskiy vs. Igor Shesterkin: ‘This is like a battle for supremacy’

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Steve Valiquette spent two years tending goal in Russia and still has a lot of friends and former teammates over there.

It gives him an interesting perspective on the duel between Russian goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin in this year’s Eastern Conference final. And as much as reporters covering the Lightning-Rangers series in North America are making a big deal about the head-to-head matchup between arguably the NHL’s best goalies, Valiquette says, the “coverage is way bigger back home.”

“This is a huge story in Russia right now,” Valiquette, a former NHL goalie and current MSG analyst, tells The Athletic. “This is like a battle for supremacy. And a lot of people think that Igor can take over the crown.

“The next generation of young, Russian goalies, are they going to be Shesterkin fans or Vasilevskiy fans? I think a lot of it will depend on this series. I’d imagine Igor knows how big this is back home. Same with Vassy. Igor’s the underdog, and he’s trying to knock the big guy off the mantel.”

Shesterkin’s off to a solid start after making 37 saves during Wednesday’s 6-2 Game 1 Rangers win. Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, tied his career playoff high with six goals allowed — he’s now allowed six three times in 93 playoff games — but this is a guy who is 18-0 in his past 18 starts following a playoff loss. Chances are the former Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner and two-time Stanley Cup champ will respond.

“Our team, they take losses personal, but I’d say the goalie really takes it personal,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Game 1.

In other words, one off night from Vasilevskiy behind a group of 18 skaters that really, really had an off night does not make or break a series for the Vasilevskiy and doesn’t anoint Shesterkin top dog just yet.

Vasilevskiy is 27 and feels like he’s been around forever because he has led the league in wins in each of the past five regular seasons and has been so dominant during the Lightning’s back-to-back Cup runs. Shesterkin is 26 and a virtual newbie to the NHL because he no longer is riding shotgun to future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist. And because Shesterkin is 18 days away from almost surely being presented with his first Vezina Trophy, many are acting like “Vassy” and “Igor” are virtual carbon copies of each other in the crease — aside from the obvious fact that “Vassy” is a few inches taller and sometimes looks like a monster in there.

But, Valiquette says, “I actually don’t see a lot of similarities between them.”

Say what?