TAMPA—The Lightning wanted this one. After ending its point streak the last time out, Tampa Bay wanted a big response. After feeling it hadn't supported Andrei Vasilevskiy well enough, the Lightning wanted to set him up for a good game.
Tampa Bay did both of those.
The Lightning came out dominant against Columbus on Tuesday and for two periods at least, set Vasilevskiy up well. He took care of the middle frame on the way to 31 saves and his (and the team's) second shutout of the season. And this on the day he was named to the All-Star Game.
"It's a pretty good feeling," Vasilevskiy said after the 4-0 win. "I didn't play that consistent after the injury and so it feels pretty good, especially for me."
He's one to take the blame on himself for a bad game and doesn't especially give himself credit for a good one. But his teammates take care of both sides of that.
"Before, we gave up a lot of goals and Vasy, we let him down," defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. "We're obviously thinking about him."
Ryan McDonagh agreed with Sergachev, saying both Vasilevskiy and Louis Domingue deserved more shutouts but hadn't gotten the support they needed in front of them. He said there was a focus on making sure Vasilevskiy could see the shots on Tuesday.
"San Jose did a good job of having guys cross in front and taking away his eyes and pucks hitting bodies," McDonagh said, referring to Saturday's loss. "You just try to clear that lane. If you're not going to block the shot, at least clear the lane so he can see it. If he can see that puck, and track it, he's going to gobble it up and not create a rebound."
Coach Jon Cooper is another who puts what Vasilevskiy called inconsistency more on the team in front of him. He pointed to the Philadelphia and Montreal games at the end of December, in which Vasilevskiy allowed five goals each, saying the team needed to be better defensively not so much its goalie.
So while Vasilevskiy played a great game on Tuesday, the shutout had a lot to do with that team defense as well.
Though, that defense let up in the second period. Columbus out-shot Tampa Bay 17-3 in the frame, and at one point the Lightning went 12:07 without a shot on net. Vasilevskiy stood strong and made a couple of great saves, the kind Cooper called 10-bell saves. That's just what Vasilevskiy does.
"Competitiveness, work ethic, conditioning, all those things you never have to worry about that with Vasilevskiy," Cooper said. "He has been the rock behind us for a couple of years now. I never worry about that. As a coach, you worry about the guys ahead of him. They have been doing a really good job."
Even after Monday's practice, there was a sense Tuesday would be a good game.
Typically, the game after a streak ends can be a trap. And then the game after a West Coast trip can be a trap. Neither of those boded well for Tuesday, so the Lightning took a preemptive strike. Cooper and the coaches set the tone, asking for 30 minutes of hard work and they got a surprisingly high-energy group, more so than assistant Derek Lalonde expected going in.
"There was a sense of urgency," Lalonde said. "Let's keep this thing going."
That showed on the ice when the Lightning came out hot and finished hot. The players wanted to make a statement, wanted to, as Tyler Johnson said after the point streak ended, go out and start another one. That and they wanted to back up Vasilevskiy.
Check, and check.