New York Rangers veteran Henrik Lundqvist will start in net Saturday in Game 1 of their best-of-five qualifying-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes as rookie Igor Shesterkin was deemed “unfit to play.”
The move was a surprise announcement for the NHL’s first game back after a nearly five-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Shesterkin, 24, started in the Rangers’ lone exhibition game, though Lundqvist played the second half. Alexandar Georgiev will serve as the backup to Lundqvist in Toronto on Saturday.
“Unfit to play” is the NHL’s new catch-all designation for any player who is absent from on-ice activities. The NHLPA pushed for medical privacy in negotiations with the NHL as it planned how to stage play during the pandemic.
“If concussions were contagious, I think players would feel differently about it,” Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the executive director of the NHLPA, said last month. “I think the guys certainly understand the notion that if they are not honest with symptoms or how they might feel that they put their entire team in jeopardy.”
It is unclear if Shesterkin is experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive. Sources tell ESPN that through Friday, the NHL had not received any positive tests in the bubble. The league is administering roughly 1,500 tests a day in each of its two hub cities, in Toronto and Edmonton.
Though the Rangers are looking to the future with Shesterkin, a prospect who came over from the KHL this season, they now turn to the 38-year-old Lundqvist, a franchise legend who is still hoping to win a Stanley Cup with the team.
Lundqvist, whose contract runs through the end of the 2020-21 season, has appeared or started in each of the Rangers’ last 127 playoff games, dating to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in 2006. His streak of 127 consecutive playoff starts is the third-longest in NHL history, trailing Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
The Rangers swept their season series against Carolina, and Lundqvist started in three of those four games. He went 3-0-0 with a 2.33 GAA and a .947 save percentage, making at least 40 saves in two of the three games.