When a whistle stopped play with four minutes, 27 seconds remaining in the Rangers’ season-ending 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, the TV broadcast cut to a shot of the longtime goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, sitting on the bench, arms folded, hair perfectly coifed because he had not played.
Then the camera pivoted to the Rangers head coach, David Quinn, who, with his team down 0-2 in a best-of-five series, had elected to start the rookie Igor Shesterkin in Game 3 over Lundqvist, who backstopped the first two games of the series.
The goaltender switch did not change the result.
Carolina put up three goals against Shesterkin, and scored once into an empty net late in the third period, eliminating the Rangers from the N.H.L. postseason, and prompting questions about what the 38-year-old Lundqvist will do next.
Over 15 seasons with the Rangers, Lundqvist set franchise records in wins (449), shutouts (63) and playoff wins (61). But as this season progressed, and before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the regular season in March, Shesterkin, a 24-year-old Russian rookie, at times overshadowed the veteran Lundqvist.
Shesterkin put up a 2.52 goals against average and a .932 save percentage in 12 regular-season games. Lundqvist started 26 games, with a 3.16 goals against average and .905 save percentage, including having held Carolina to three losses and seven goals in their regular-season matchups.
Shesterkin missed the first two games of the play-in series, described only as “unfit to compete” because the league’s new health protocol prevents teams from specifying the ailments that sideline players. Lundqvist started those games, facing 71 shots and surrendering seven goals.
On Tuesday night, Quinn chose Shesterkin, ending Lundqvist’s streak of postseason starts at 129. Chris Kreider’s second-period goal gave the Rangers their first lead of the series, 1-0, but it lasted just three minutes, six seconds. The Hurricanes scored their first of four straight goals to seal the series. Afterward, Quinn refused to blame Lundqvist or Shesterkin.
The Rangers scored “four goals in three games. Our goaltending was the least of our problems,” he said at a postgame news conference.
From here, Lundqvist heads into the final year of a contract that is due to cost the Rangers $8.5 million of salary cap space. But whether the Rangers decide to keep Lundqvist at that price, and at his age, is unclear, especially with Shesterkin proving he belongs in the N.H.L. as a starter. Alexandar Georgiev, 24, the team’s third goaltender, becomes a restricted free agent now that the Rangers season is done.
The Rangers now have a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick in the second phase of the N.H.L. draft lottery, scheduled to be held after the qualifying round.
Lundqvist didn’t speak to reporters after Tuesday’s game, but a glum and disappointed Kreider expressed guilt at shortening Lundqvist’s postseason and, possibly, his Rangers career.
“He wants to win more than anyone,” Kreider told reporters at the virtual news conference, adding, “He deserved better from us.”