Step 10: Vasilevskiy shines as Bolts even series

by Gary Shelton on May 18, 2018 · 0 comments

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Vasilevskiy starred in net for the Lightning./CARMEN MANDATO

Vasilevskiy starred in net for the Lightning./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

Finally, Alex Ovechkin had the net in sight. Finally, he could do some damage.

And so Ovechkin cocked, and he fired. He lifted his stick and slammed it into the crossbar in frustration. It was the only impact he would make on the night.

Of course, by this time, Andrei Vasilevskiy was no longer protecting it.

Otherwise, Ovechkin might have been stopped again.

The Tampa Bay drew even in their playoff game against the Washington Capitals Thursday night, taking a 4-2 win that was, pretty much, decided by Vasilevskiy. The Lightning is now 5-1 on the road in the playoffs.

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Killorn scored the winning goal in the third period./CARMEN MANDATO

Killorn scored the winning goal in the third period./CARMEN MANDATO

Vasilevskiy, who surrendered 10 goals in his first five periods of the series, had been heavily questioned going into Game Three. Some wondered if Lightning coach Jon Cooper might bench Vasilevskiy. In short, the goaltender and his team  both appeared to be in trouble.

This is why Cooper stuck with Vasilevskiy. He had the faith that this kind of performance was still inside of him. And Vasilevskiy rewarded him with one of the most efficient days in Washington since the days of Lincoln.

Vasilevskiy made 36 saves in 38 shots in one of his finest efforts, absorbing shots like Sonny Corleone at the toll booth. The Lightning, meanwhile, got off only 20 shots — going 21 minutes without a shot at one stretch – but still won.

Stamkos scored his fourth goal in four games./CARMEN MANDATO

Stamkos scored his fourth goal in four games./CARMEN MANDATO

“I remember after Game 2 and the questions were coming from the other side of the table,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I felt they were questioning Vasilevskiy, and we don’t. He’s been the guy for us. You love your games when you don’t really need your goaltender and your teams playing well in front of you, but when you don’t have your A game, you need your goalie to have his A game and he sure did.”

Stamkos, who has scored a goal in four straight games, gave credit to Vasilevskiy.

“Vasi was able to bail us out,” Stamkos said. “That’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the world. He’s given us a chance throughout the year when we haven’t

Callahan had six hits, two blocked shots./CARMEN MANDATO

Callahan had six hits, two blocked shots./CARMEN MANDATO

had our best, and tonight was another example of that. At the end of the day in the playoffs, they don’t really ask how. They ask what the series is at. We came in here, regardless of how well Washington played,  and they played really well, we found a way to win two games. That’s what I’m most impressed with about our group is coming into that third period, after what happened in the second, in our minds,”

In the language of hockey, this is called “stealing one” This time, Vasilevskiy was Dillinger. When the game was tied at 2-2, it was because of Vasilevskiy. When it finished 4-2, it was because of Vasilevskiy.

“We won a game when we didn’t have our A game.,” Cooper said. “But if you really look at that game, our strong game was bookended by some poor play. We

Point scored the first Lightning goal./CARMEN MANDATO

Point scored the first Lightning goal./CARMEN MANDATO

had a really good first period going. But you can’t spend the last whatever seven-and-a-half minutes – we were basically killing penalties the whole time. We leave the period where all the penalty killing we’d been doing, but our guys were gassed. That’s a lot of stress, mental stress.

“The same guys are on the ice the whole time. Other guys aren’t playing. You lose your rhythm. I look at Brayden Point’s ice time, I don’t know if he had three minutes after the first period. All the guys, they just weren’t getting on the ice. I think that affected our second. Give Washington a ton of credit, they pushed,

Hedman has anchored an improved defense./CARMEN MANDATO

Hedman has anchored an improved defense./CARMEN MANDATO

they pushed. We were holding on. That’s when we really needed (Vasilevskiy), and he was there for us. The third period was fine. When we scored the go-ahead goal, we were a completely different team. I thought we just took the game over after that until they got to the 6-on-5, which obviously is an advantage for them. That second period was a huge issue, and that’s when you need your guy. Vasy stepped up.”

Alex Killorn scored the winning goal with 11:57 left to play on a pass from Ondrej Palat.

“I think for us tonight was so important because going down 3-1 in a series is tremendously different than going to a series 2-2,” Killorn said. “.And now we go

Palat assisted on Killorn's winning goal./CARMEN MANDATO

Palat assisted on Killorn’s winning goal./JEFFREY S. KING

back home and I think the way we’ve played at home the past two games, we’ve got to get a lot better. Everyone talks about having the mentality of playing like a visiting road game. It’s easier said than done, but I think we just have to keep things simple and not force anything. Once we got the lead at the end, I think we played our best hockey, regardless maybe they were trying to do certain things to score but we were playing really well defensively.”

Asked the reason his team was able to  win when it was outshot decisively, forward Ryan Callahan laughed.

“Vasi,” he said. “It’s pretty simple. He had some pretty big saves. Vasi steals one for us right there. We found a way to get a dirty road win.”

The Lightning now plays a best-of-three series (two of the games at home) for the Eastern Conference title. Sure, there is concern — the Caps took over long stretches of Thursday night’s game — but it is not as dire as it was when the Bolts were behind 2-0 and had been completely outplayed.

Special teams helped the Bolts, though. They killed all four penalties against Washington’s power play. They scored for the ninth straight game on their own player play.

Cooper has led his Bolts to a 2-2 tie./JEFFREY S. KING

Cooper has led his Bolts to a 2-2 tie./JEFFREY S. KING

“It’s tough to score 5-on-5, especially in the playoffs.,” Point said. “Guys are playing really tight defense and not giving you a ton of space, so when you get those opportunities, you never know how many you’re going to get, it’s important to make them count. Lucky enough, throughout the playoffs and the series, we’ve done that. Hopefully it just continues that way.”

It would help, of course, if the Lightning didn’t face three penalty kills in the first period. It would help if the Caps didn’t run roughshod in the second period.

“We’re not kidding ourselves, we knew we had a lot better than that second period,” Stamkos said. “We got behind the eight ball with three or four penalties in a row. It just sucks the life right out of you, gives them a ton of momentum. But I think our penalty kill was outstanding tonight. Again, special teams is critical for us and it gave us a chance. We knew going into the third, we just had a chance. Forget what happened in the first and the second and just go out and hope for the best and it worked. We got it.”

The Bolts host game five Saturday night at 8 p.m.

Cirelli scored an empty netter at the end./CARMEN MANDATO

Cirelli scored an empty netter at the end./CARMEN MANDATO









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