CHICAGO — Turns out, Andrei Vasilevskiy is all right.
And, believe it or not, so is the Lightning’s penalty kill, which was the unlikely hero in Monday’s streak-snapping 2-0 win over the Blackhawks at the United Center.
Vasilevskiy, 23, played like the team MVP he is with 40 saves in his seventh shutout of the season. But it was the much-maligned penalty kill, ranked 22nd in the league, that delivered the dagger. Tampa Bay killed off all six Chicago power plays, and Chris Kunitz added a crafty shorthanded goal late in the second period to help Tampa Bay end a three-game losing streak.
"We needed a game like that," D Braydon Coburn said. "There was a sense of urgency tonight. Good step in the right direction."
The Lightning (32-12-3) might have gotten a little bit of its swagger back.
So did Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy, who had allowed 23 combined goals in his previous five starts, was sharp from the get-go, including making a big stop on Patrick Sharp during a 2-on-1 in the first period. He thwarted another couple of Blackhawks odd-man rushes early in the second to keep it scoreless.
The penalty kill helped him out. There was the 45 seconds of a 5-on-3 that Tampa Bay killed in the first period, then the four-minute man advantage late in the second. That’s when Kunitz scored. On a delayed Chicago penalty with three minutes left, Kunitz scooped up a carom off the back boards and banked it in off goalie Jeff Glass.
"Just a broken play,’’ Kunitz said. "I’ll take it when I can get it.’’
Asked what was working for him, Vasilevskiy said: "Our PK.’’
Coach Jon Cooper said it was apparent early on that Vasilevskiy "was in his groove.’’
Coburn added: "Vasy was unbelievable.’’
Callups Matt Peca and Michael Bournival provided a spark. And Yanni Gourde sealed it with two minutes left with his 15th goal.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Kunitz 6 (Point, Dotchin), 17:14 (sh).
Third Period—2, Tampa Bay, Gourde 15, 18:26.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 12-5-14—31. Chicago 13-17-10—40.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Chicago 0 of 6.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 28-9-2 (40 shots-40 saves). Chicago, Glass 3-3-1 (31-29).
A—21,662 (19,717). T—2:17. Referees—Steve Kozari, Frederick L’Ecuyer. Linesmen—Brandon Gawryletz, Tim Nowak.
There’s a chance the Lightning will have four participating All-Star players after all.
The NHL still needs to replace injured Lightning D Victor Hedman (lower body, 3-6 weeks) on the Atlantic Division team. The other top candidates — Toronto’s Morgan Rielly and Boston’s Charlie McAvoy — are both on injured reserve, leaving a spot open.
Lightning rookie D Mikhail Sergachev and Anton Stralman are likely being considered to replace Hedman, as is Boston’s Zdeno Chara. It’s uncertain when the league will make the announcement, but likely in the next couple of days. Sergachev’s eight goals are tied for first among division defensemen, and his 27 points are tied for third. Stralman, one of the more underrated players in the league, is a plus-17.
Stamkos, Kucherov and G Andrei Vasilevskiy are the other Lightning All-Stars, as well as Cooper.
Quote to note
"Coming in now you feel more comfortable — you’ve played with the guys, played this system. The first time around it’s a little more nerve-wrecking."
C Matt Peca on having more confidence in this callup vs last year’s.
• Smart move to put RW Ryan Callahan on the second power play unit, taking Ondrej Palat’s spot. Callahan has struggled to find confidence offensively (one goal in 36 games), and this could give him a boost.
• Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Jim Johannson, the GM of the U.S Olympic hockey team. Johannson died Monday at the age of 53. Way too young.