NEW YORK — The Avalanche and Rangers might be off-Broadway appointment viewing next June.
For now, they’ve supplied spectators with theater’s most familiar storytelling trope that somehow never tires.
New York’s Goliath in goal, Igor Shesterkin, was as durable as usual — one ghastly gaffe notwithstanding — but his former backup played the role of David. Alexandar Georgiev saved 44 shots Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, and the Avalanche won 3-2 via Evan Rodrigues’ shootout goal in front of Georgiev’s former fans after they greeted him with a first-period round of applause. Georgiev didn’t take a bow, but it might as well have been a premature curtain call.
Colorado is no underdog, of course. The Avs (4-2-1) are Stanley Cup champions and widely considered favorites to repeat, even if they didn’t exactly play like it in their first six games. Their performance Tuesday lived up to expectation more, but in New York they encountered a Rangers team that reached the Eastern Conference Final last season — and a team equipped with the most conventionally accepted ingredient for playoff success.
That would be Shesterkin, one of the most elite netminders in the business. Georgiev started his career as a backup goalie to Rangers legend Henrik Lundqvist, then as Lundqvist faded into retirement, along came Shesterkin to leapfrog Georgiev.
The Avalanche opted to seek a second consecutive championship with a more unorthodox strategy this offseason, trading draft picks for the more afforable Georgiev. He is an everyday NHL starter for the first time.
The early returns are better than Avalanche fans could have imagined.
In his first five starts, the 26-year-old has allowed 2.6 goals per game. Colorado is 4-0-1 with him in net.
He notably denied New York’s Alexis Lafrenière several times, including once on a sweeping pad save on what would have otherwise been a nifty redirect goal.
And when the game fittingly, if cruelly, went to a shootout, Georgiev once more managed to rise to the occasion. He saved three of four New York attempts, with only superstar Artemi Panarin able to get one past him. The game-clincher: a pad save against Lafrenière, punctuated by an emotional celebration from the 26-year-old netminder.
The Avalanche killed all four New York power plays, including a 4-on-3 advantage in overtime. Colorado also scored short-handed for the lead 59 seconds into the third period. Shesterkin made the only goalie’s mistake of the night, straying too far from the net as Andrew Cogliano pursued and snatched the puck. He centered to Logan O’Connor as Shesterkin tried to get back in front of the net, but he was too late. O’Connor cashed in.
The only goals Georgiev allowed? One late in the second period on an odd-man rush stemming from Sam Girard’s errant shot off the boards, and the other on a superb counterattack by Adam Fox with 5:57 left in regulation after Nathan MacKinnon turned the puck over on the other end.