NHL News

Tampa players must ‘step up’ as Vasilevskiy out

BRANDON, Fla. — Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made it clear that the Lightning will be without a “luxury” with Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy expected to miss the first two months of the NHL season after undergoing back surgery.

But Cooper has confidence the perennial Stanley Cup contender can rise to the challenge.

“Let’s be honest, we sit here and try and make the situation a little more rosy,” Cooper said Friday. “It’s not ideal, no question. Vasy is a big part of our team, but we do have other guys in the organization. Guys looking to get a chance. Here it is.”

Vasilevskiy, 29, had a microdiscectomy Thursday to address a lumbar disk herniation. The recovery could sideline him for 25 or more games.

Should the Lightning opt to stay in-house, they have three goalies under contract.

Tampa Bay signed journeyman Jonas Johansson, who went 11-13-4 in parts of four seasons with Buffalo, Colorado and Florida, to a two-year, $1.55 million contract to be Vasilevskiy’s backup.

Matt Tomkins, Canada’s 2022 Olympic starter who has never played in the NHL, spent the previous two seasons in Sweden and had a strong preseason debut against the Nashville Predators. Hugo Alnefelt, 22, was with Tampa Bay’s AHL minor league team in Syracuse last season.

“Does it hurt not having one of your core players? For sure,” Cooper said. “But it’s also an opportunity for others. It’s an opportunity for us to get better as a team. When there’s a little bit of adversity, maybe some good could come from it down the road.”

Tampa Bay was knocked out of last season’s playoffs in the first round by Toronto following three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final.

Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy in 2019 as the league’s top netminder and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2021 as playoff MVP.

“Guys are going to have to step up,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “This team has always dealt with adversity pretty well in terms of guys being injured and other guys stepping up. We’ll just have to hold the fort there until ‘Big Cat’ is back.”

No one played more hockey from August 2020 through the end of the playoffs last season than Vasilevskiy, who was on the ice for just over 14,769 minutes of game action.

“I want everybody just to be clear on this: This isn’t the end of Vasy’s season,” Cooper said. “He will be back. And hopefully knowing him, it will be sooner than later. He’ll be a refreshed goalie.”

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