MONTREAL —With its season on the line, the Lightning continues to ride its No. 1 goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy, 22, started Friday against the Canadiens, his third start in the past four days. The workload was a departure from Tampa Bay's typical plan, which is to use veteran backup Peter Budaj to keep Vasilevskiy fresh.
But Vasilevskiy delivered, stopping 27 of 29 shots in an 4-2 win over the Canadiens. He picked up where he left off Thursday, when he lifted the Lightning to a 4-1 victory in Toronto.
Starting Vasilevskiy was a risk. He has struggled on short rest, entering Friday 0-2-1 with a 4.56 goals-against average.
This was his first time Vasilevskiy started back-to-back games since Jan. 7-8. Budaj had split back-to-backs since getting acquired from the Kings in the Ben Bishop trade in late February.
But with a loss Friday, Tampa Bay would have been eliminated from playoff contention. So if the Lightning was going to go down, it was going to do it with its best goalie.
And if Sunday's regular-season finale against Buffalo means anything, expect Vasilevskiy in net. And that'd be the right call.
C Steven Stamkos (knee surgery), as expected, did not play Friday against the Canadiens, and it's unlikely he'll return for Sunday's regular-season finale. "I know he's getting more confident and getting closer," coach Jon Cooper said. "Just not ready yet." … C Tyler Johnson missed his second straight game with a nagging lower-body injury. D Jason Garrison (lower body) and F J.T. Brown (undisclosed) also participated in the morning skate with Johnson and were scratched. F Cedric Paquette was out, too.
. Syracuse D Matt Taormina (left) won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL's best defenseman. An All-Star for the third straight season, he set career highs in goals (14), assists (42) and points (56) in 66 games. He was never called up by the Lightning, though it didn't have many injuries to left-shot defensemen and it also has lefty Slater Koekkoek.
. F Brett Howden, the Lightning's 2016 first-round draft pick, made his pro debut with Syracuse on Friday.
Victor Hedman won't win the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman this season, but he warrants consideration for his stellar year. He has been one of the few constants in this turbulent Tampa Bay season. "In my three or four years with the team, a lot of our success has been predicated on how Victor has played," coach Jon Cooper said.