Bobrovsky, Shesterkin matching each other save-for-save in Panthers-Rangers series for East title

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Eastern Conference Finals have been a goaltender duel, and nobody should have expected otherwise.

Seems fitting that the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers are knotted at one game apiece heading into Game 3 on Sunday afternoon, given that a pair of Russian netminders and past Vezina Trophy winners as the league’s top goalie — Sergei Bobrovsky for the Panthers, Igor Shesterkin for the Rangers — have basically matched each other save-for-save, stat-for-stat.

Bobrovsky has allowed the Rangers to score two goals. Shesterkin has allowed the Panthers to score two goals, not counting an own goal deflected in by a teammate and an empty-netter that New York yielded in Game 1. And the similarities hardly end there.

“It’s definitely fun,” Bobrovsky said.

Fun is one way to describe it. Hair-raising, gut-churning, and nail-biting would also apply.

The Rangers evened the series on Friday with a 2-1 overtime win at Madison Square Garden, Barclay Goodrow the hero 14:01 into the extra session by beating Bobrovsky and giving New York — which finished with the NHL’s best regular season record — a needed split of the first two games before heading on the road for Games 3 and 4.

There’s been almost no breathing room over the first two games: Through 134 minutes and 1 second of hockey so far in the East finals, 130:13 of it has come with the margin on the scoreboard being one goal or less. The goalies have just been that hard to beat.

“He’s been terrific, he’s been terrific this year and he’s certainly been terrific in the playoffs,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said of Shesterkin. “I thought there was good goaltending at both ends. … Both of these guys are good goaltenders.”

Take away the own goal from Game 1 — Florida’s Carter Verhaeghe got credited with a score that made it 2-0 late in the third when Alexis Lafrenière tipped the puck past Shesterkin — and the goaltender numbers are almost perfectly matched. Bobrovsky has stopped 52 of 54 shots he’s seen, a .963 save percentage. Shesterkin has stopped 50 of the 52 Florida shots that have gotten to him, a .962 mark.

And it’s not a new thing that Bobrovsky and Shesterkin are mirroring one another. Consider these stats, which include both this regular season and the playoffs:

— Shesterkin’s record is 45-20-2, Bobrovsky’s is 45-21-4. They both had 36 regular-season wins, they both have nine wins so far in the playoffs.

— Shesterkin’s save percentage is .915, Bobrovsky’s is .914.

— Bobrovsky’s goals-against average is 2.33, Shesterkin’s is 2.51.

— Bobrovsky’s even-strength save percentage is .922, Shesterkin’s is .920.

— Bobrovsky’s save percentage when facing a power play is .877, Shesterkin’s is .871.

“Two really good goaltenders at each end,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s an exciting series, exciting hockey. Lots of hits, lots of action.”

Just not a lot of goals.

“Obviously, two of the best goalies in the world and it’s a showdown out there,” Verhaeghe said. “We’re looking to get chances and they both are playing unreal. That’s all I can say.”

GOODROW’S TIME

Goodrow scored four goals, one of them a game-winner, on 61 shots in 80 games during the regular season for the Rangers. In the 12 playoff games, he has four goals, two of them game-winners, on just 12 shots.

He was asked to explain. He could not.

“I don’t know,” said Goodrow, the only skater in the Rangers lineup who has won a Stanley Cup; backup goalie Jonathan Quick is a three-time Cup hoister, including last season with Vegas. “I’m just trying to bring the same game every night, trying to do whatever I can to help the team win games.”

STREAKS END

Going back to his time in Columbus, Bobrovsky had won 12 consecutive overtime playoff games — tying the longest such streak in NHL history with Patrick Roy.

And the Panthers had won 11 OT playoff contests in a row, which ends up as the second-longest run in Stanley Cup playoff history behind a 14-game stretch of OT wins by Montreal from 1993 through 1998 (with Roy in the net for much of that).

Florida fell to 13-9 all-time in playoff overtime games.

STAT OF NOTE

Friday’s game was the 100th playoff overtime game in Rangers history. It was the 98th playoff game — total — in Panthers history.

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL

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