Friday, 4 a.m.
What do you do when a comfortable lead grows uncomfortable? How do you respond when a walkaway win turns wobbly?
At such a moment, you turn to your goaltender.
And at such a moment, more and more, Andrei Vasilevskiy looks large enough.
Take Thursday night, when a solid victory turned scary. One instant, and the Bolts had a 3-0 lead, and they looked like they were putting together a highlight tape. The next minute, and team was on its heels, and only contorting saves by
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Vasilevskiy kept the margin at two goals. If you believe in your gut, the Islanders seemed as if they were an instant from scoring.
And Vasilevskiy made sure they did not.
He sprawled. He bent. He twisted. And time after time, he kept the puck out of the net in the Lightning's 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders.
“He played unbelievable,” said defenseman Victor Hedman. “He bailed us out especially there in that last part of the second period. He came up big for us. He stopped the breakaway in the third and had a lot of big saves and moved the puck well too. We have two of the best goalies in the league and that’s comforting for us to know that we have him there to bail us out."
Captain Steven Stamkos agreed.
“Vasy was outstanding,” he said. “He made some huge saves. He was big with a couple breakaway saves. We know what we’re going to get from Vasy, and he’s going to make some huge saves with his athletic ability.”
He is growing up, you know. He remains a stranger in a strange land, learning the game, learning the language. Like a lot of foreigners, he didn't trust his verbal skills a year ago.
Now, he still speaks in cliches. "I stayed relaxed. I stayed in the blue paint." But he seems more mature, more in control. He looks, frankly, like the goaltender of the future.
A year ago, even, the odds of the Lightning winning went down considerably when Vasilevskiy played and Ben Bishop sat. But Vasilevskiy looks ready to play this season.
“I just think he's a year older,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “A year wiser. A year stronger, a year quicker, a year better. He's a year more experienced in the league. Thats what you need. He's learning the league. He's an outstanding goaltender, but you have to learn the league, the players, the angles. But he's a student of the game, and he works his tail off.”
Vasilevskiy's performance made Thursday night one of the Bolts' best games. They finally took a lead. They got great goaltending. They scored on the power play. They got goals from stars like Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. They closed well (Vasy's saves and a third-period goal by Brian Boyle led the Bolts).
Boyle's goal, 68 seconds into the final period, stopped the Islanders' momentum.
“It kind of ultimately popped their balloon a little bit,” Cooper said.
“It’s 3-1. It’s a game, plus they had momentum. We needed that buzzer to go in the second period and it helped us being up two instead of just one and then you get that fourth one and it kind of sucked a little air out of their tires.”
Stamkos, standing next to Boyle, shrugged off his buddy's goal.
“Lucky shot if you ask me,” Stamkos said, laughing. “I didn't think it was a big deal at all. No, anytime you get a two-goal lead, they say that’s probably one of the worst ones to have in the third. That was a big goal. It gives you some breathing room and still allows you to make plays, and I thought we had a really solid third period.”
Hedman had an assist, giving him 188 for his career. He moved into first place ahead of Dan Boyle in the category.
“Yeah, I knew about it,” Hedman said. “It's a good feeling and something I'm proud of. It's tough not to notice it.”
The Lightning is home against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.