Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the way in exciting Lightning win

Tampa Bay’s goaltender records a career high with 54 saves to beat the Capitals 5-4 in overtime.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stops the puck during the third period of the team's game against the Capitals. The Lightning won 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stops the puck during the third period of the team's game against the Capitals. The Lightning won 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Published March 20
Updated March 21

WASHINGTON — The way Steven Stamkos sees it, the entire Lightning team owes Andrei Vasilevskiy a hug.

That’s what he told Pierre McGuire on the NBCSN broadcast immediately following Wednesday’s win over the Capitals, the second over Washington in a week.

The overtime game featured nine goals, traded leads, scrums and a fight, but Tampa Bay owes this win to Vasilevskiy.

He was called sensational (Stamkos), unbelievable (Victor Hedman) and exceptional (Jon Cooper).

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“It’s pretty safe to say who our MVP was tonight,” Cooper said after the 5-4 overtime win.

Vasilevskiy saw 58 shots (“Shame on us for giving up so many chances,” Cooper said). He saved 54 of them, for a career high and franchise record.

He sprawled, he dove, he made a pad save while holding his stick upside down. In a flashy game that left fans entertained on all levels, Vasilevskiy deserves the most credit.

“The stats speak for themselves,” Ryan McDonagh said. “Another incredible performance and definitely wish we played a little bit better in front of him.”

Coaches will usually say the penalty kill starts with your goalie. That was truly the case Wednesday.

The Lightning gave the Capitals six power plays and killed all but one. Washington spent a lot of time in the offensive zone. Vasilevskiy didn’t allow much, making 15 saves on the kill alone.

Take, for example, a Capitals power play early in the third period. As the advantage expired, Vasilevskiy made saves first on Alex Ovechkin, then sprawled to the opposite post for Tom Wilson’s rebound.

In the second period, Vasilevskiy had a nice power-play stop on Evgeny Kuznetsov, coming in with speed. Kuznetsov didn’t elevate the shot, but Vasilevskiy stayed with him to make the pad save.

“The story was Vasy tonight,” Stamkos said. “(There were) a couple big penalty kills in the third where he was our best player.”

Vasilevskiy made a few nice saves on Ovechkin, who could be on his way to a 50-goal season at age 33. On one, Ovechkin tried to go high, and Vasilevskiy knocked the puck down with his shoulder, then grabbed it with his glove. Later, in the third period, he stopped a classic Ovechkin knuckle-puck one-timer from the left circle.

For comparison, during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Vasilevskiy never saw more than nine shots on the penalty kill. He totaled four goals allowed on 30 shots in the series. Overall, he didn’t see more than 38 shots.

He did just about everything you could ask of a goalie. Vasilevskiy did allow four goals, but on 58 shots. That’s a .931 save percentage (just above his season average of .930, which is tied for second in the league).

Of the four goals, one came off a bad turnover at the blue line, one was a tough post-to-post play and one was a rebound. The goal Vasilevskiy might want back was Kuznetsov’s shot between his legs with 53 seconds left in regulation.

But the Lightning certainly isn’t holding that one against him.

“Obviously not up to our (team) standard, but he was,” Hedman said. “We’ve got to tip our hat to him and the PK today. I think that won us the game tonight.”