TAMPA — He's the future, but he's the present. He's the reason the Lightning felt comfortable trading Ben Bishop. He's the reason why the Lightning won as much as it did.
"He proved that all year, " Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He's been the most consistent, best player this whole season."
And he has given up 10 goals in the last two periods.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is under the microscope as his team travels to Washington down 2-0 in the Eastern Conference final. The Lightning was pummeled by the Washington Capitals in Tampa, outplayed, outhustled, outcoached and, yes, outgoaltended.
I'm not pulling Vasilevskiy. The Lightning happens to agree. In for a dime, in for a dollar. You ride the kid to the end, whenever and wherever that might be.
It's Vasilevskiy or bust.
"No," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He's our guy."
The Capitals? Satisfied?The Caps are not those Caps.Hold on to those Game 5 tickets.Here's what else we've learned from the Lightning-Capitals series so far. How about you? https://t.co/xloW1ZiYPT @TBLightning #gobolts #caps #stanleycup #nhl @Capitals pic.twitter.com/RcJpwVuBpW— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) May 14, 2018
What, Louis Domingue is going to pull your fat from the fire?
At least when the Capitals yanked former red hot Philipp Grubauer early in the playoffs, they could turn to Braden Holtby, a former Vezina Trophy winner. Holtby has been bedrock for Washington ever since.
You stay with Vasilevskiy.
To make a change now, away from Vasilevskiy, would set off neural alarms up and down the Lightning roster. You go with Vasilevskiy, at least in Game 3. If it blows up again, lesson learned.
That's not to say this hasn't been an adventure. This is Vasilevskiy's first turn through the playoffs as a No. 1. He has had good moments and bad moments. He isn't the only reason the Lightning is getting scorched.
On the other hand, he allowed Washington's fourth goal with seconds left in the second period Sunday night. Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov beat Vasilevskiy from a sharp angle. That puck can't go in.
When it did, the Lightning went from a goal down to two down. The air was sucked right out of Amalie Arena. It was a Capitals jamboree from there on out.
Vasilevskiy didn't talk to media after Game 2. Nor did he speak at the Jet Center on Monday before the Lightning beat it to D.C. Yeah, maybe Vasilevskiy isn't comfortable around the TV cameras. Doesn't look too comfortable around Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin, either. Stepping up after games is something he needs to grow up and into. It's part of being the man.
Is he shot? Did all those games during the season take their toll? Or is this just a simple case of this is how far Vasilevskiy can take the Lightning at this point in his career. Is he just not ready to go all the way?
If sports betting was legal, right now, would you place a bet on this series coming back to Tampa for Game 5? I would.
But the Lightning has pushed all of its chips in on Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning looks deflated, beaten, Tom Jones writes. It looks like a shell of itself. That's what the Capitals did to it. #TBLightning #GoBolts #ALLCAPS #TBLvsWSH @tb_times @tomwjones https://t.co/0LZitTUDMC— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) May 14, 2018
"It's the chances we're giving up," Cooper said. "It's the five-man unit in front of him. You've got to feel for him. The choice for the guy going over the boards in any situation is Vasilevskiy."
"He's one of those guys, his compete level is so high, he puts a lot of pressure on himself," Hedman said. "You want that in a goalie."
It will take more than that in Game 3 on Tuesday. That's how it works in the playoffs. Your goalie has to win a few games when it matters most. There can't be bad goal at just the wrong time. You can't let the life get sucked out of your season. It's time for Cooper to pull out all the stops for Game 3, line changes, lineup changes — but all the stops being pulled out won't matter if No. 88 doesn't stop shots.
The Lightning needs to ride Vasilevskiy, for his present and his future. But no one said it would be easy.
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Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly