2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Editor's Choice, Lightning Goaltending, NHL Goaltending, Top Stories, Vezina Trophy

Lightning’s Vasilevskiy Continues Vezina-Worthy Play in Game 2

The NHL released the three Vezina Trophy finalists on Tuesday. For the fourth straight time, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is a nominee for the award (the other two are Philipp Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights). Vasilevskiy has continued to dominate the crease ever since he took over seasons before and can be relied upon as the backbone for the defense. He might have some talented teammates in front of him to help his workload, but he is a solid top goaltender in the league and should continually be nominated.

Looking at his statistics from the regular season, he was ranked in different spots based on his play. He was the top netminder in wins with 31 in 42 games started (Grubauer with 30 and Fleury with 26 were second and third in wins, respectively). Vasilevskiy was sixth in save percentage (SV%) for the regular season, posting a .925 SV%. Ranked first in that category was the goalie on the opposite side of the ice in Game 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes in Alex Nedeljkovic with a .932 SV%. Fleury was listed third with a SV% of .928, while Grubauer was eighth with a .922 SV%.

Goals-against average (GAA) saw Vasilevskiy finish eighth with a 2.21 GAA. Nedeljkovic was again first in that list as well with a 1.90 GAA. Grubauer was second on that list with a 1.95 GAA, while Fleury came in third with a GAA of 1.98. Then, in shutouts, New York Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov and Grubauer tied with seven shutouts each, followed by Fleury with six and Vasilevskiy in fourth place with five shutouts. The only time Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy so far was in 2018-19. The Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck won the award for 2019-20.

Standing Tall in Game 2

Fresh off his Vezina nomination, Vasilesvkiy stepped between the pipes for Game 2 against the Hurricanes and proved once again why he is one of the best in the league currently. This series will go down as one heavily decided on goaltending. Both Vasilevskiy and Nedeljkovic have played insanely well, helping keep both clubs in every game so far. Games in a series like this get decided on a mistake or two that get made. Attention to detail is so important for both teams. Any error can be costly.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy continued his strong play that got him nominated for the Vezina Trophy again in Game 2 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Game 1 was a perfect example of a mistake deciding a game in the case of Nedeljkovic. He played a superb game overall, and it was a constant battle between both sides as to who was going to give up that crucial tally against when they were tied 1-1. The goalie showdown was neck and neck until the crack in the foundation came when Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow got one past Nedeljkovic in the third period. It was a tough angle shot from Goodrow, but it went through Nedeljkovic and was one that was tough to give up at that point.

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Game 2 was another close contest between Tampa and Carolina where any goal would have huge implications. Vasilevskiy and Nedeljkovic both played fantastic for their teams, stopping a combined 44 shots out of 47 (Vasilevskiy saved 31 of those and Nedeljkovic got 13). Both goalies did not allow a single goal in the first period before Tampa broke through in the second, thanks to winger Alex Killorn. He received a pass from Steven Stamkos and traveled with the puck to the slot, where he turned and fired one that went past Nedeljkovic to make it 1-0. It was Killorn’s fifth goal of this postseason.

It remained tight between both clubs even after that first goal. However, the opportunity presented itself for Bolts forward Anthony Cirelli, getting a long pass down the ice from defenseman Victor Hedman in the third period. Despite attempts by Hurricanes defender Brady Skjei to disrupt the developing play, Cirelli claimed the puck and shoveled it by Nedeljkovic on his backhand to double the score 2-0 and to get his third goal of the playoffs.

Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning
Anthony Cirelli scored the game-winning goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead against Carolina. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Vasilevskiy almost played a perfect game, and the Lightning were doing what they could to dump the puck out and let both sides regroup as more time was ticking off the clock. About a minute and a half left in the contest, the shutout bid ended as Carolina forward Andrei Svechnikov got a pass from behind the net by Jordan Staal and beat Vasilevskiy to cut the lead in half. Svechnikov was camped perfectly right outside of the blue paint of the crease, and a quick release was all that was needed to make it 2-1.

The remaining time in the game, I am sure, was nerve-wracking for Tampa fans all over watching, but Vasilevskiy was not rattled at all by the goal against. He stayed calm, had good vision tracking the puck even when it got tipped by other skaters, and stopped play when he had to. There were a couple of close calls, but the Lightning walked away victorious and extending their series lead 2-0, heading home to Amalie Arena for Games 3 and 4.

One of the best parts about having a goalie like Vasilevskiy is that the offense did not have to show up as a whole. Stamkos had an assist on the night, but Nikita Kucherov went pointless, as did Brayden Point. Those two were so dominant earlier in production for the playoffs, but that does not mean that there will be points every game.

Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov went pointless for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 against the Hurricanes. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Vasilevskiy can handle being the last resort to prevent a goal against, and he gives the rest of the roster confidence to focus on what they need to do at their own positions to win each hockey game. If for whatever reason, they cannot rack up as many goals on the board, then he can do what he can to make sure the couple goals that do get scored will be the difference makers. Tampa has a lot of great talent on their squad, and Vasilevskiy is one of the best that can help carry the team on his back when needed.

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