TAMPA — Midway through the second period Thursday night, Andrei Vasilevskiy encountered every goaltender's nightmare.
"I was surprised," Vasilevskiy said.
But not shaken. After some tic-tac-toe passing by the Islanders, Vasilevskiy sprawled out, and center Casey Cizikas missed the net. Vasilevskiy made some huge saves in an Islanders furious second-period rally, sparking Lightning radio color analyst Phil Esposito to quip on the air, "Give the kid a break."
The Lightning gave Vasilevskiy the lead, and he made sure it held up in a 4-1 win in front of an announced crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena. The score might have looked a lot different had Vasilevskiy not held the Islanders to one goal in a second period in which they had 26 shot attempts.
"He gives up another one there and we might be in trouble," coach Jon Cooper said. "And the reason we only gave up one is because of 'Vasy.' You need your goalie to help you out in situations where you're not going right, and he did that for us."
Vasilevskiy said the Lightning's two-goal first-period for a 2-0 lead gave him confidence. It was a rare strong start for Tampa Bay (8-5-1), which has scored the first goal in just five of its 14 games. Captain Steven Stamkos opened the scoring with the first of two Lightning power-play goals, his team-leading eighth goal of the season.
"That got us kick-started," Cooper said.
But after the Lightning increased its lead to three on Tyler Johnson's power-play goal early in the second, the Islanders began to take control. Cooper said Tampa Bay stopped playing 200 feet and started turning the puck over.
"Horrific (line changes) started costing us," Cooper said.
But Vasilevskiy helped maintain a two-goal cushion with several key saves, 31 in all. "I wanted to keep our net safe," he said. "Just kind of survived the second period." The only goal Vasilevskiy gave up was by wing Andrew Ladd on a 2-on-1.
"Unbelievable," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He bailed us out."
The Lightning's fourth line put the game away with a tone-setting third period, Brian Boyle's goal one minute in making it 4-1. "That kind of ultimately popped their balloon," Cooper said.
So did Vasilevskiy. The Lightning's future No. 1 goaltender, who signed a three-year extension in July, has been stellar this season, 3-1-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average in five starts. "He's a bona fide goaltender in this league," Cooper said.
Expected to get a larger share of starts in a split with two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, Vasilevskiy, 22, has looked more comfortable. You can argue he has been the Lightning's best player in several of his starts. Cooper said it's mostly that Vasilevskiy is learning the league and is a "year older, wiser, quicker, stronger, better."
"When I play often, I get much, much confidence," Vasilevskiy said. "Every shot for me is not a huge save. I think it's what I should do every game."
The Lightning will take that.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 8 (Johnson, Namestnikov), 8:03 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 5 (Hedman, Stamkos), 11:00. Penalties—Tavares, NYI, (elbowing), 6:38; Lee, NYI, (cross checking), 13:15; Ladd, NYI, (high sticking), 16:39.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Johnson 5 (Palat, Stamkos), 2:50 (pp). 4, N.Y. Islanders, Ladd 2 (Boychuk), 8:04. Penalties—De haan, NYI, (interference), 2:17; De haan, NYI, (holding), 9:49; Hedman, TB, (tripping), 16:41.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Boyle 4 (Paquette), 1:08. Penalties—Lee, NYI, (high sticking), 5:41. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 9-16-7—32. Tampa Bay 10-7-11—28. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 2 of 6. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Halak 3-4-2 (16 shots-13 saves), Greiss 2-3-0 (12-11). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 3-1-1 (32-31).