TAMPA — This wasn't goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's night.
Everyone could see it.
Vasilevskiy gave up four goals on the first eight shots he faced in the Lightning's 6-1 loss to the Predators in front of 19,092 at Amalie Arena. A couple came on seemingly harmless shots he'd stop nine out of 10 times. That would be enough to shake anyone's confidence, much less a 22-year-old getting his first shot as a team's No. 1 goaltender.
Vasilevskiy wasn't made available to the media after the game.
Coach Jon Cooper indicated he didn't consider pulling Vasilevskiy and inserting Adam Wilcox, called up Wednesday from AHL Syracuse for his first appearance in the NHL. To Cooper, this was part of Vasilevskiy's learning curve. Vasilevskiy is expected to start the next game, Saturday at Philadelphia.
"He's a young goalie, and eventually he's going to be a starting goalie in this league," Cooper said. You're not going to have your 'A' game every single night. Nobody does. Hall of Famer goaltenders have all gone through this."
Vasilevskiy's performance was magnified considering the Lightning's state. It is desperately fighting for a playoff spot. After winning two of three to start this five-game homestand, the Lightning (19-17-4) dropped the last two. And now it heads on the road for tough back-to-back games in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on Saturday and Sunday.
"You're not going to see this team fold," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "You're going to see this team rise to the occasion. We've seen it so many times before."
The Lightning believes Vasilevskiy will rise to the occasion, too. It's hard enough to replace a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist in Ben Bishop, who is expected to return in mid-January from a lower-body injury suffered Dec. 20. It's another for Vasilevskiy to feel like he has to carry a struggling team.
Vasilevskiy is 4-3-1 since taking over for Bishop and has allowed a season-high-matching five goals in back-to-back games.
There were some positives in this one. The Lightning had 69 shot attempts to Nashville's 35. Tampa Bay defended better, not allowing a ton of dangerous scoring chances. But the Lightning couldn't capitalize, other than with a Tyler Johnson power-play goal in the second period. That pulled Tampa Bay within 2-1.
But Nashville scored a back-breaker with seven minutes left in the second period and another one 42 seconds later. The first came on a Colton Sissons wrist shot from the right circle that beat Vasilevskiy glove side. The second one was a screened point shot by Ryan Ellis that withstood two coaches challenges, Nashville on goalie interference and Tampa Bay on offside.
Sissons added two more goals, one an empty-netter, to record his first career hat trick.
"They had a couple seeing-eye (shots) that went in and kind of changed the momentum of the game," Johnson said. "We kind of let up after that. We got deflated. That's not our team. We definitely have to be better than we were."
So does Vasilevskiy.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Nashville, Fisher 11 (Johansen, Ekholm), 2:25 (pp). Penalties—Johnson, TB, (slashing), 1:37; Zolnierczyk, NSH, (high sticking), 4:16; Nashville bench, served by Fiala (too many men on the ice), 14:32; Brown, TB, Major (fighting), 17:12; Watson, NSH, Major (fighting), 17:12; Brown, TB, served by Drouin, (roughing), 17:12.
Second Period—2, Nashville, Forsberg 9 (Fiala, Johansen), 3:56. 3, Tampa Bay, Johnson 12 (Hedman, Killorn), 6:12 (pp). 4, Nashville, Sissons 3 (Fisher), 13:21. 5, Nashville, Ellis 5 (Wilson, Arvidsson), 14:04. Penalties—Irwin, NSH, (tripping), 4:42; Bitetto, NSH, (hooking), 7:49; Callahan, TB, (interference), 15:46.
Third Period—6, Nashville, Sissons 4 (Jarnkrok), 14:02. 7, Nashville, Sissons 5 (Bitetto, Jarnkrok), 17:00. Penalties—Drouin, TB, (slashing), 12:10; Ekholm, NSH, (slashing), 12:10; Watson, NSH, (roughing), 13:53; Killorn, TB, (roughing), 13:53. Shots on Goal—Nashville 4-7-8—19. Tampa Bay 5-11-12—28. Power-play opportunities—Nashville 1 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 4. Goalies—Nashville, Rinne 14-10-6 (28 shots-27 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 10-7-2 (18-13). A—19,092 (19,204). T—2:32. Referees—Kevin Pollock, Garrett Rank. Linesmen—Steve Barton, Steve Miller.