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Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy doesn’t miss a beat in his return

The Lightning got Andrei Vasilevskiy at his best in his first game back from a fractured foot.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes an athletic save with Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (24) and center Auston Matthews (34) pressuring during first period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (12/13/18). [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes an athletic save with Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (24) and center Auston Matthews (34) pressuring during first period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (12/13/18). [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Dec. 14, 2018
Updated Dec. 14, 2018

TAMPA–Judging by the scoreboard, this didn't look like a game the Lightning needed a career game from Andrei Vasilevskiy. Tampa Bay won by a decent margin at 4-1

The score was deceiving, however. Toronto out-played Tampa Bay and put 49 shots on the Lightning goaltender. He came up with saves again and again, to the tune of a new career high, and did so in his first game back from a fractured foot.

"Vasilevskiy was outstanding tonight," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He was the best player on the ice for us by a country mile."

There were a couple of nice ones in the first period, on Auston Matthews and John Tavares respectively (maybe you've heard of Toronto's big stars). But then came what may have been the best save of Vasilevskiy's career in the third.

It was three saves in one, one of those you have to see to believe.

Lightning All Eyes: Check out these photos of the Lightning's win

Vasilevskiy made the initial save on Patrick Marleau and it looked run-of-the-mill, good but nothing special. Then Marleau sent the rebound back at him and it got interesting.

Vasilevskiy stretched out wide left with his glove and got most of the shot, but the puck got past him. He then reached his leg out straight back, kicking to swipe where the puck should be. He just caught it with his toe.

Unbelievable, center Anthony Cirelli called it. Neither he nor Cooper could pick which was better between that save and Vasilevskiy's behind-the-back save against Los Angeles last year.

Again, Vasilevskiy did this in his first start after missing 14 games, a month of play.

It wasn't exactly a game-saving save, the Lightning was up by three goals at the time, but it was indicative of what Vasilevskiy did on a night when the Lightning needed him early.

"He's one of the top goalies in the league," Matthews said. "When you're that big and you're that athletic. He made a couple unbelievable saves tonight and kept their team in the game."

Cooper put it that the Maple Leafs had 59 minutes and the Lightning had one, when it scored twice in the final minute of the second period. So, through those other 59, Vasilevskiy was the difference.

"He never seems to let up on the play," said Kasperi Kapanen, who scored the Leafs' only goal.

Those early saves on, particularly on Matthews and Tavares, gave Vasilevskiy a boost to get some confidence going forward. Those helped him settle into the game.

"Just tried to survive the first period," he said. "After that it felt pretty good."

Vasilevskiy called the past four weeks, watching his teammates play without him, some of the worst in his life.

"I knew we had to be smart and let it heal completely," he said. "But when the doctor said it was healed and I could play, I was pretty happy."

Vasilevskiy certainly didn't look like someone in his first game back, there was no rust showing.

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