Vasilevskiy can give the Lightning a huge lead

by Gary Shelton on May 16, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy can give the Lightning a stranglehold.

Vasilevskiy can give the Lightning a stranglehold.

Sunday 6 a.m.

It is his job now. It is his net. For the time being, it is his team.

Imagine Andrei Vasilevskiy. Imagine the pressure. Imagine walking through the locker room and feeling the eyes follow you around the room.

He is 21 years old, the age of a college junior, and one of the finest collection of sharp-shooters in the NHL is primed for you. He is thousands of miles from home. He barely speaks the language.

Ah, but hockey? Vasilevskiy speaks fluent hockey. Tonight, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Vasilevskiy can give the Lightning a chokehold in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. A 2-0 lead, going

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home, doesn't guarantee anything. But it sure would put the Lightning in the easy chair.

Vasilevskiy can give the Lightning a huge lead against the Penguins.

Vasilevskiy can give the Lightning a huge lead against the Penguins.

For this broken team, without Steven Stamkos, without Anton Stralman, now without Ben Bishop, Vasilevskiy is the best hope. It is hard to imagine the Lightning winning a 6-5 shootout. But 3-2? Maybe.

Can Vasilevskiy pull this off? The numbers aren't promising. This season, he was only 11-10 as a starter. His save percentage (.910) was only 47th in the league. His goals against (2.76) was only 53rd. In 21 starts, he had eight games where he gave up four goals or more.

And yet, the Lightning seems to believe.

Perhaps because they have no other choice.

"I think he's definitely one of the hardest workers on our team, a guy that comes in every day and works hard," said forward Alex Killorn. "It's tough when you're a backup goalie and you never know when you're going to get your chance. He was obviously ready tonight.

"Whenever you can have a goalie that comes in, a backup you have a lot of confidence in, it helps the team for sure."

The Bolts like Vasilevskiy's work ethic. They like his swagger. Asked about this game, Vasilevskiy merely said “That's why I'm here.”

Defenseman Victor Hedman was impressed.

"He was tremendous," Hedman said. "I can't really put into words how good he was. To come in like that, conference final, he showed last year in the Final as well when he came in. You're pretty impressed by a 21-year-old to come in like that and play as well as he did."

Oh, there have been impressive relief performances over the years. Scott Darling of Chicago came off the bench and stopped 42 shots last year.

So how does the Lightning play around Vasilevskiy? For one thing, they tighten things up defensively. Last year, when Vasilevski had to start against the Blackhawks in the NHL Finals (a 2-1 loss), he didn't face a shot for eight minutes, and he faced only two the next night. Vasilevskiy is not the puck-handler that Bishop is, but if he gets into rhythm, he can give his team a shot in the third period.

For Vasilevskiy, all it will take is the game of his life.

It has to come sometime, doesn't it?

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