His every move has been chronicled and touted on social media. And on Tuesday, the night finally came for 24-year-old Igor Shesterkin to make his much anticipated debut in goal for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist, 37, who has more wins than any other goalie as a Ranger, was on the bench, possibly a first step toward a changing of the guard.
Shesterkin balanced on his blades in the crease as the national anthem played before the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden, while his idol, Lundqvist, with 458 career wins as a Ranger, sat impassively on the bench.
Shesterkin had a sterling 15-4-3 record with a 1.93 goals-against average and three shutouts with Hartford of the American Hockey League before being called up Monday to the struggling Rangers, who had lost three straight games on a road trip to Western Canada.
“On my way to the arena, my hands were shaking and I couldn’t even drink water,’’ Shesterkin said through an interpreter after the game.
Wearing No. 31, Shesterkin heard loud cheers when he led the team out for warm-ups and skated a few solo laps, a customary honor for rookies. Teammates then peppered him and Lundqvist with shots in front of a large contingent of fans looking on with eager anticipation. The two goaltenders crisscrossed momentarily at center ice.
“As I stepped on the ice I felt everyone’s support and energy, and it really helped me,” Shesterkin said.
Short choruses of “Igor, Igor” sprouted from the Garden crowd during the game, akin to the chants of “Henrik, Henrik” that Lundqvist has heard since he replaced Kevin Weekes as the starter early in the 2005-6 season.
The Rangers faithful, who have been largely patient with the team’s rebuild, showered Shesterkin with a prolonged cheer when he was announced as part of the starting lineup for the first time in a regular-season game.
But the first minutes of Shesterkin’s debut surely were not what he envisioned. He allowed a goal to Colorado’s J.T. Compher on the first N.H.L. shot he faced, 4 minutes 44 seconds into the game, then gave up a breakaway goal to its leading scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, two minutes later.
Shesterkin was getting a crash course in the Rangers’ bugaboo, a porous defense, a weakness that is not always a problem because of their high-scoring star, Artemi Panarin. Lundqvist and the team’s third goalie, Bulgarian-born Alexandar Georgiev, have faced barrages many times this season.
“We didn’t hesitate to give him a taste of Rangers hockey,’’ Coach David Quinn deadpanned after the contest.
Though his debut initially looked bleak, the Rangers rallied in front of Shesterkin with two goals in the first period and two more in the second to enter the third with a 4-3 lead.
Colorado pulled goalie Philipp Grubauer with 2:18 left, challenging Shesterkin to rise to the task. He smothered a loose puck in the crease, stopped Gabriel Landeskog in close and similarly denied Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen. In all, there were 13 third-period saves as the Rangers held on for a 5-3 victory, punctuated with an empty-net goal from Panarin, his team-best 23rd goal this season.
Before the game, Quinn played down any pressure on Shesterkin, who played six seasons in the Russia’s K.H.L. before arriving in North America last summer.
“I think every player feels the same kind of pressure,’’ Quinn said. “Certainly he’s earned this opportunity and we’re very excited to see him here.”
The first Russian-born goalie to suit up for the Rangers, Shesterkin was a fourth-round draft pick by the team in 2014. Like Lundqvist, who played five seasons for Frolunda in Sweden before joining the Rangers, Shesterkin expertly honed his craft in his home country with stellar results.
As far back as June, Shesterkin sounded prepared not only for his first Rangers start, but for the inevitable heir apparent questions to follow.
He made all the right proclamations when he spoke at rookie camp about the possibility of replacing a Rangers icon who has guarded the team’s nets for 15 seasons.
“Henrik Lundqvist is my idol since I was a little boy,” Shesterkin said that summer day. “I very much look forward to seeing him on the ice and learning what he does on the ice. Playing with him someday on the same team, obviously there is some work to be done in that regard.”
Before taking a photo with the game-winning puck in a quiet Rangers locker room on Tuesday night, Shesterkin tried crystallizing his feelings after the victory, which was witnessed by his wife and parents. Despite the early deficit, the resolve that helped forge all those victories for SKA Saint Petersburg of the K.H.L. bubbled to the surface, and calmness prevailed with a glove save here and a stick save there. He was succinct in explaining the turnabout.
“I wasn’t panicking; I laughed it off and gained confidence as the game went on,’’ he said, sitting in the cubicle usually inhabited by Georgiev, next to Lundqvist, in the Rangers’ room.
There wasn’t time to ask Shesterkin about another key moment. As his teammates skated over to congratulate him after the win, there was an embrace from Lundqvist, the eloquent Swede and perennial fan favorite who holds virtually every goaltending record in franchise history.
For the two goalies who are now finally Rangers teammates, perhaps no further words were necessary.