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Lightning backup goalie saga could stretch into next week

TAMPA — With six days until opening night, the Lightning's backup goalie situation is still a mystery.

And it might not be clear until after the regular season opens Oct. 8 against the Flyers.

Kristers Gudlevskis, 23, and Kevin Poulin, 25, the latter claimed off waivers Sunday from the Islanders, are the remaining in-house candidates to temporarily fill in for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who will miss at least the first month after vascular surgery. There's not much more time for Gudlevskis and Poulin to audition. Starter Ben Bishop played against the Stars on Thursday and was slated to get action in the final exhibition game, Saturday against the Panthers in Sunrise.

But that may not matter. There's also the possibility the backup isn't in camp yet, with the Lightning having the option of seeing who is available on waivers when rosters are due Tuesday.

Coach Jon Cooper said he's not worried about the uncertainty.

"I don't think you have to make that decision at this point," Cooper said. "There's so many different scenarios. I don't think we can sit here and say just because the goalie we keep as the guy that's going to back up (Bishop) is going to be the guy that's going to play games. Someone may go to the American league, play some games and come up."

A couple of issues are at play.

Poulin is waiver-eligible, meaning Tampa Bay would be at risk of losing him if he's not on the roster. The scouting staff likes his potential. From an asset management point of view, putting him on the roster keeps another goalie in the system. It would allow Gudlevskis to play at AHL Syracuse, with the option of getting recalled to make a spot start. Cooper indicated the Lightning is leaning toward carrying seven defensemen and 13 forwards, so there'd be an extra roster spot.

"I can only control what I do on the ice, and that's what I'm trying to do," Gudlevskis said. "How it's going to work out? We'll see. Both options are not bad. I can go to Syracuse and play a lot or stay here and be in the NHL."

Gudlevskis, who missed the first week of training camp with an upper-body injury, has played in two games, stopping 17 of 18 shots in a 4-1 win Friday against the Panthers, then allowing two goals Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the Penguins. Poulin gave up two goals in relief Tuesday but has more NHL experience (50 games) than Gudlevskis (three).

"We know what Kevin's talents are, and we know what 'Gudy' has," Cooper said. "They are both guys that can play in the NHL."

The Lightning can also peruse the waiver wire next week to see if another goaltender has slipped through the cracks. Jonas Gustavsson, for example, has played well in a tryout invitation with the Bruins but could become available if he's not chosen as backup. Barring injury, Tampa Bay wouldn't necessarily need a backup to play until Oct. 12-13, when it has its first back-to-back games, in Boston and Detroit.

"I guess we're not really worried about that," Cooper said. "One guy is going to get it over the other eventually. Who that is going to be, we'll have to see in a few weeks."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Lightning backup goalie saga could stretch into next week 10/01/15 [Last modified: Thursday, October 1, 2015 9:56pm]
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