TAMPA — As goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy thought back to his unforgettable past 48 hours, he couldn't help but smile.
Vasilevskiy, 21, became a father for the first time on New Year's Eve when his wife, Ksenia, delivered a baby boy two weeks early in Tampa while he was playing for AHL Syracuse in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Vasilevskiy, recalled afterward, flew to Tampa on Friday morning to see his child, who doesn't have a name yet, before starting Saturday against the Wild, saying it felt like his NHL debut.
"Many, many, many emotions," Vasilevskiy said.
At the end, after Vasilevskiy secured a huge 3-2 shootout victory, he stared at the Amalie Arena ceiling and let out a primal scream to the sellout crowd of 19,092. If this wasn't a must-win game for the Lightning (19-16-4), it was pretty darn close, and Vasilevskiy made the win happen, tallying 15 third-period saves and another in the shootout. "He was our best player," defenseman Victor Hedman said.
"Kid won an American League game, an NHL game and became a father for the first time in 48 hours," coach Jon Cooper said. "That's a pretty good run."
The Lightning salvaged a 3-2-1 homestand before starting a four-game trip to western Canada, but like everything else this season, it wasn't easy. Having lamented its bad starts, Tampa Bay opened with arguably its best 50-minute stretch of the season.
But then it sat back, and the Wild tied it at 2 with just under three minutes left in regulation on a goal by defenseman Jared Spurgeon. That came four minutes after what appeared to have been the tying goal was nullified when Cooper's coach's challenge was upheld, citing goalie interference by wing Zach Parise. "Clearly became a big part of the game," Cooper said.
So was wing Ondrej Palat, who had a monster all-around effort in his return after missing eight games with a left ankle injury. Palat, vowing with his Triplets linemates to bring the team's "swag" back, had three shots and five hits, and set up wing Nikita Kucherov's go-ahead goal in the second. Center Valtteri Filppula scored the first.
But it was Vasilevskiy's night. He had played the previous six games for the Crunch on a conditioning assignment, winning four. After his final one Thursday, Crunch coach Rob Zettler called him into his office and broke the news of his baby's birth. Vasilevskiy, his wife not due for two weeks, thought Zettler was going to tell him he was being called up.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Vasilevskiy initially said to Zettler.
"So you already checked your phone?" Zettler said.
"I knew three days ago I'd get called up," Vasilevskiy said.
"I said, 'No, you're a new dad,' " Zettler recalled. "Even better news.'"
Vasilevskiy got better as Saturday's game wore on, making up for a bad giveaway behind the net that led to center Charlie Coyle's tying goal in the first. "After that, I just felt empty inside," Vasilevskiy said. "It's all about mentally keep going, keep playing. The most important is what happens in the end."
In the end, Vasilevskiy stopped Parise to open the shootout. Ryan Callahan gave Tampa Bay the only shootout goal, with Coyle's final attempt clanking off the left post. "I should get lucky sometimes," Vasilevskiy said, grinning.
Especially last week.
|Lightning wins shootout 1-0|
|Lightning wins shootout 1-0|
First—1, TB, Filppula 4 (Killorn, Stamkos), 11:40. 2, Min, Coyle 10, 15:39. Penalties—Dumba, Min (hold), 3:58; Killorn, TB (hold), 18:03.
Second—3, TB, Kucherov 14 (Palat, Stralman), 1:03. Penalties—TB bench, served by Marchessault (too many men), 17:31.
Third—4, Min, Spurgeon 6 (Coyle, Niederreiter), 17:21. Penalties—Paquette, TB (tripping), :52; Coburn, TB (delay of game), 11:54.
OT—None. Penalties—None. Shootout—Min 0 (Parise NG, Koivu NG, Coyle NG), TB 1 (Boyle NG, Callahan G). Shots on Goal—Min 4-11-15-2—32. TB 12-13-3-2—30. PP opps—Min 0 of 4; TB 0 of 1. Goalies—Min, Dubnyk 16-10-3 (30 shots-28 saves). TB, Vasilevskiy 4-4-0 (32-30).