MONTREAL — Andrei Vasilevskiy has certainly made a strong case for being one of the best goalies in the world.
But to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And the Lightning’s Vasilevskiy, a 23-year-old Russian, got his chance Thursday to go save for save with the Canadiens’ Carey Price, who has been the gold standard at the position for years.
"For me, they’re 1-2 in the league," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.
The two didn’t disappoint in a dazzling duel, with the Lightning falling 2-1 in a shootout at the Bell Centre. It was like two Cy Young-winning pitchers going 10 shutout innings. Price came out on top and might have delivered the save of the year in overtime. But Vasilevskiy, with 37 saves, has earned the former MVP’s respect.
"He played an amazing game," Price said. "He’s a very good goaltender."
Vasilevskiy — who leads the league in wins, shutouts and goals-against average — had his shutout streak of 184 minutes-plus snapped early in the second period by the Canadiens’ Max Pacioretty.
"God, he’s good," Pacioretty said. "There’s no surprises. He’s one of the best goalies in the league, if not the best goalie in the league this year. And he played like it Thursday."
The show began early for Vasilevskiy. On the opening shift, the Canadiens had a 3-on-1. But Vasilevskiy made one of his trademark sliding toe saves to keep the sellout crowd from going nuts.
A few minutes later, Montreal had another odd-man rush, and Vasilevskiy thwarted Pacioretty again. Then he got his glove on an Andrew Shaw breakaway.
That was in just the first five minutes.
"I feel like often times, when (Vasilevskiy) wasn’t playing every game, he looked like a goalie who would react to shots," Pacioretty said. "Now he looks like he’s trusting his size and his technique to let pucks hit him. It’s a sign of a goalie with confidence."
Price was really good, too. He got a piece of a Nikita Kucherov shot on a 2-on-1 in the first and stoned the league’s leading scorer on a breakaway six minutes into the third.
The Canadiens finally cracked Vasilevskiy in the first minute of the second. Lightning rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev — who didn’t have his best game in his first return to Montreal since arriving in the June Jonathan Drouin trade — sent a clearing attempt up the boards right to Pacioretty, who cruised in all alone to score 20 seconds in. That snapped Vasilevskiy’s career-long shutout streak at 184:49.
The Lightning’s passing was off all night in general. Tampa Bay (29-8-3) seemed a bit out of synch. It was chasing the puck. "We didn’t play well," Tyler Johnson said. "Too many turnovers. Didn’t play smart."
But the game remained tied for most of it. The Canadiens’ lead was just 44 seconds, with Kucherov beating Price with a wicked wrist shot form the high slot to tie it.
That was the last goal Price gave up. He saved the best of his 44 saves for last. His back-to-back stops on Johnson and Ondrej Palat in overtime will be in highlight reels for years. Price gloved Johnson’s wrist shot, then flipped over on his back and got a pad on Palat’s rebound.
"I was about to walk off the bench," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I thought it was in the net."
"Carey Price is Carey Price," Johnson said.
Vasilevskiy held his own, stopping two of three shootout attempts. For now, the debate on who is the best will live on. Vasilevskiy outdueled Price last week in Tampa.
"Obviously I’m really biased," Johnson said. "I think (Vasilevskiy) is. But Price isn’t too far behind."
|Canadiens win shootout 1-0|
First Period—None. Penalties—Galchenyuk, MTL, (high sticking), 9:57; Drouin, MTL, (tripping), 19:41; Gourde, TB, (tripping), 19:58.
Second Period—1, Montreal, Pacioretty 9, 0:20. 2, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 26 (Stamkos, Hedman), 1:04. Penalties—None.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Kunitz, TB, (tripping), 9:53.
Shootout—Tampa Bay 0 (Point NG, Kucherov NG, Stamkos NG), Montreal 1 (Byron G, Drouin NG, Pacioretty NG).
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 11-13-16-5—45. Montreal 10-15-11-2—38. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Montreal 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 26-5-2 (38 shots-37 saves). Montreal, Price 12-14-2 (45-44). A—21,302 (21,288). T—2:41. Referees—Trevor Hanson, Francois St Laurent. Linesmen—David Brisebois, Greg Devorski.