Andrei Vasilevskiy ‘Has Been Nothing But Tremendous’ For The Tampa Bay Lightning
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If it means closing out an opponent to advance to the next round, or hoisting the Stanley Cup, chances are Andrei Vasilevskiy is going to shut and seal the door.

The Tampa Bay goaltender stopped all 49 Florida shots in Game 4 of the second-round series between the teams. It was the seventh shutout of Vasilevskiy’s playoff career with six of them coming in his team’s last seven series-clinching games.

“We are thankful that he is on our side,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, following Monday night’s sweep of the Panthers. “In saying that, he will be the first one to thank his teammates for the amount of shots that were blocked, not only (in Game 4), but throughout the series.”

That is exactly what the 27-year-old goaltender did.

“I think it is just the way the whole team plays in those games,” said Vasilevskiy, in addressing questions about his supremacy in recent series-clinchers. “The whole (Florida) series was constant blocked shots and sacrifices. The boys were breaking bones to stop the puck. Such a great effort by everybody on our team.”

While that was true, especially in Game 4 when 11 Lightning players combined to block 18 shots, Vasilevskiy has risen above and beyond when the stakes are at their highest.

Over the course of the 2020 and 2021 postseasons, Vasilevskiy recorded shutouts in five straight series-clinching games. It was streak that spanned from the Cup-clinching Game 6 against Dallas in the Edmonton bubble to last year’s Cup-clinching Game 5 against Montreal at Amalie Arena. Now, make it six of seven.

The one series-clincher in which Vasilevskiy did not post a shutout during his current run? He stopped 30 of 31 Toronto shots in a 2-1, Game 7 victory in this year’s opening-round.

“A goalie’s job, if you want to be elite, is to give your team a chance to win,” said Cooper, noting, as an example, there were times hall of famer Grant Fuhr allowed five goals, but his 1980s Edmonton Oilers would win 6-5. “It comes in a variety of ways and (in Game 4) he wasn’t letting anything in. We have seen that time and time again.”

Time and time again during the series the Panthers had to think they were attempting to put the puck through the proverbial brick wall. After averaging 4.1 goals per game while winning the President’s Trophy as the league’s top team, they scored all of three goals in getting swept.

In Game 4, it looked like things might go Florida’s way. The Lightning had two goals in a span of 1:55 of the second period that were rightly overturned by video review. At one point in the middle period, the Panthers were outshooting the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs by an eye-opening 29-6. Yet, the game was scoreless thanks to No. 88.

Pat Maroon’s goal at 6:16 of the third period would be all Tampa Bay needed to move on to the Eastern Conference Final against either the Rangers or Hurricanes.

“We didn’t want to waste this performance by Vasy,” said Steven Stamkos, following the game. “What an effort by him. It was one of those games where our goaltender stood on his head and gave us a chance and we found a way.”

Or as Cooper put it: “If you are going to take a team out, there are going to be games where you need your goaltender, and clearly he was the first, second and third star tonight.”

With each passing series, Vasilevskiy’s place in NHL history continues to soar beyond the fact he backstopped the Lightning to the last two Cups. Consider that only Patrick Roy had more saves — 63 in the 1996 Cup Final against, ahem, the Panthers — in a series-clinching shutout since 1955-56. Or that his sixth series-clinching shutout is an all-time league mark, besting the five recorded by Clint Benedict and Chris Osgood.

Indeed, the things Vasilevskiy has done and continues to do have him in rarified air.

“It is pretty cool to play with a player that I think will go down as one of the best goalie’s that ever played the game,” said Alex Killorn. “Kind of how you gauge players is how they perform in big-time games, and he has been nothing but tremendous.”

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