Lightning’s Vasilevskiy shines in his return

by Gary Shelton on December 14, 2018 · 0 comments

in general

Vasilevskiy stopped 48 shots against Leafs./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

Vasilevskiy won his 10th game of the season./TIM WIRT

For a month, he watched. For a month, he waited.

For a month, he was on the outside, not quite a player, not quite a goaltender. He was in an athlete's phantom zone, somewhere between being a goalie of the past and a goalie of the future.

Then came Thursday night.

And, baby, Andrei Vasilevskiy was back.

Yeah, this was the goaltender the Lightning has missed for a month, no matter how many games that backup Louie Domingue won. This was Vasilevskiy at his best,

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Cirelli blows past Ennis for the shorthanded goal./TIM WITE

turning, twisting, contorting, rending the Toronto Maple Leafs helpless. He was part acrobat, part gymnast, all goaltender.

Vasilevskiy kicked in the doors on his return to competition Thursday night. He faced 49 shots, and he stopped 48 of them, as the Lightning beat the Leafs 4-1 in a showdown of the NHL's top two scoring teams. He tied Ben Bishop's save record for the Lightning.

Johnson scored late in the second period./TIM WIRT

It was the eighth straight win for the Bolts, the second longest streak in franchise history. It's two wins shy of the NHL's longest winning streak of the season.

"He was unbelievable," said forward Anthony Cirelli. "He definitely didn't miss a beat. He made a lot of key saves for us in big moments. He gave us a little boost and at the end of the day helped us win this game."

Vasilevskiy stopped 23 shots in the second period alone. This season, Vasilevskiy has started two games in which he gave up fewer than 23, and seven in which he gave up fewer than 30.

"Vasilevskiy was outstanding tonight," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He was the best player on the ice for us by a country mile."

Killorn scored late in the second period./TIM WIRT

Said Vasilevskiy: "I tried to survive the first period and then the second too. They're a good team. They played very well. That was a pretty good test for us, and the guys scored important goals at the end of the second.”

The Bolts led 2-1 as the second period came to a close, but then scored twice in 36 seconds on goals by Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson. Anthony Cirelli scored Tampa Bay's first goal on a shorthanded goal, and Nikita Kucherov broke the tie when his shot  was caught by Frederik Anderson, but his glove was ruled to have crossed the goal line with the puck inside of it.

"They had 59 minutes," Cooper said. "We had one."

The Bolts did have an effective penalty kill, stopping all six power plays.

Ryan McDonagh and the defense gave up 49 shots./TIM WIRT

"It's difficult when you’re killing so much against a lethal power play that they have" Cooper said. "So we just continued to spend time and time and time in our zone and it became draining and then some guys don't get on the ice which makes it tough and now you’re trying to get back into the flow of the game. They were pressing."

The Lightning's flurry in the final minute of the second period was big.

"That’s huge," Ryan Callahan said. "That’s a momentum swing right there. Killing off those penalties was really big. They had a couple good chances, but obviously Vasy was very good on the penalty kill. To grab two like that deflates the other team and lifts us up. Going into a third period with a three goal lead, I thought we did a good job with it.”

The Bolts now embark on a four-game road trip through Western Canada. They play the Winnipeg Jets Sunday. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m.

"This will be a good test," Cooper said. "This was a test. We played an outstanding team tonight. I don't know what their coach said but I'm pretty sure he was downplaying how well they played  and we're happy with the score and probably think we've got a little more in the tank than we showed tonight. It's good to get a barometer, they're right behind us in the standings, but you're going to have to go through these teams if you’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs and this is what you're going to get."

Anderson stops Kucherov but carries the puck over the goal./TIM WIRT










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