All eyes on Vasilevskiy in the Lightning’s stretch run

by Gary Shelton on March 20, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Andrei Vasilevskiy has to be strong in net in the stretch drive./Steven Muncie

Andrei Vasilevskiy has to be strong in net in the stretch drive./Steven Muncie

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

There are some 300 shots still headed his way. You hope he is ready.

There are 11 games left, and maybe nine of them have his name on them. You want him to be ready.

There are dozens of mistakes by the defense, exposing him to this breakaway or that one. You need him to be ready.

Because, in a short season, all chances start with Andrei Vasilevskiy, kid goalkeeper. If he is good enough, perhaps the Tampa Bay Lightning can survive. If he is not, there is no chance. It doesn't matter what language he speaks. That much is clear.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy needs to get on a hot streak./Steven Muncie

Andrei Vasilevskiy needs to get on a hot streak./Steven Muncie

What the Lightning are going to ask Vasilevskiy is almost unheard of in the NHL. Playing goal in the NHL is hard at any age, and the line between what is good and what is average is a thin one. There are those who swear by Vasilevskiy's future. But there is something to be said for seasoning, too. It's hard to ask Vasilevskiy to be world-class, and it's harder to ask him to do it now.

He is 22, and he is not yet ready to stand up to the pressure of the NFL late-season. Yet, stand he must. He is athletic, and he is competitive, but he is not yet what the Lightning seems sure he will become. But in the Lightning locker room, his teammates look at him and trust. They have no other choice.

Oh, the sledding will be hard regardless. The Bolts, outside of Nikita Kucherov, isn't a gifted offensive club. Their defense is leaky. There are too many guys who should be crunching for Syracuse. But nothing can forgive either flaw quite like great goaltending. High-pressure hockey games are like that. A good goaltender can turn two goals into points, and three into a victory.

Andrei Vasilevskiy./Steven Muncie

Andrei Vasilevskiy has 11 games, at most, to save his team./Steven Muncie

But is Vasilevskiy, still on the underside of 23, able to pull it off. Is he seasoned enough for the pressure that is sure to head his way?

For seven games, it looked like he was. Vasilevskiy allowed only 10 goals in those seven, and there were times he seemed to smother the goal mouth. But in the last two, he has allowed eight goals. In the two before the streak, he allowed seven.

And so you wonder: Do you trust him? Does his team trust him? He has only a 35-30 record in his three seasons. Is it too much to ask for him to star now?

Again, it will not be easy, even if Vasilevskiy is sharp. Of the 11 games that remain, seven teams are ahead of the Lightning in the standings, including four of the five games on the road. If you go simply by the standings, the Lightning would pick up eight more points this season. That's not enough.

How many will it take? Oh, maybe 15 or so out of the 11 games. That means a few surprises here or there for the Bolts.

Life in the NHL has always been hard for goalies. Consider this: The great Bernie Parent was 40 games under .500 (61-101) until he turned 25. Ken Dryden has six games before he was 24; Glenn Hall had eight.  Dominik Hasek didn't even reach the NHL until age 26. Patrick Roy lost 46 games before he turned 23. Martin Brodeur didn't have a breakout season until he was 23.

In other words, the Bolts are asking something almost unprecedented from Vasileveskiy. He will have to get mature in a hurry. He'll have to turn his potential into production. And he'll have to get the Bolts into the post-season as a kid.

Just that.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has to be better../Steven Muncie

Andrei Vasilevskiy has to be better../Steven Muncie

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