(This is the 15th in a series this month looking at each player on the Lightning’s roster. Up next: J.T. Miller)
TAMPA — Andrei Vasilevskiy has a sixth sense for detecting the puck behind him, or maybe it’s eyes in the back of his head. The Lightning goalie isn’t giving away his secrets, but he added another candidate for “best goal ever” this season.
Back in December, Vasilevskiy left the whole NHL wondering how.
It was his first game back after a month out with a fractured ankle, not the game you’d expect anyone to shock and awe. Vasilevskiy got a piece of Patrick Marleau’s rebound with his glove, but the puck squirted past. The goalie reached his leg straight back, lifting it over the puck and then lowering the pad to catch the puck just before the goal line with his toe.
The move could have ended up pushing the puck into the net, but Vasilevskiy’s precise placement showed he knew just where it was to avoid that danger.
Just another crazy, how-did-he-do-that save. Add this one to the list featuring last year’s behind-the-back stop and the spinning save he made in the KHL.
Vasilevskiy, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, finished the season in the top 10 of nearly every category. He had more wins than any other goalie at 39. At one point second in save percentage, the 24-year-old finished sixth in the league (.925). He was ninth in goals-against average (2.40).
Both his save percentage and GAA were the best of Vasilevskiy’s career, in the second of a three-year contract. That latter number, though, was part of the Lightning’s biggest issue: allowing too many goals. It wasn’t all dazzling saves, Vasilevskiy also allows goals. He can usually be counted on to make the ones that matter most, but not always.
Vasilevskiy stole a couple of symbolic wins for the Lightning (over Toronto in his return from injury and at Washington, the scene of last year’s crime), but the ones Tampa Bay needed most in the playoffs.
Then, Vasilevskiy didn’t look like one of the league’s top goaltenders. He was good, at times great, but not the superstar goalie who stopped Marleau.
No one is harder on Vasilevskiy than he is. After a few losses late in the season, the goalie lingered in the dressing room, slow to undress but also unavailable to the media. He grumbled to himself in Russian, while banging his gear around.
When everything was over, Vasilevskiy stood up and took ownership of his play. He made clear that he needed to be better in the playoffs. The first-round sweep wasn’t all on the goalie, it might not even have been mostly on the goalie, but he held himself accountable for his part.
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s season
High: Vasilevskiy returned after missing 14 games with a fractured ankle to make 48 saves to steal a 4-1 win against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 13 behind a lackluster team showing.
Low: The four consecutive losses to the Blue Jackets in the first-round playoff sweep were Vasilevskiy’s only back-to-back regulation losses all year.
By the numbers
54 Saves in a March 20 win over the Capitals, a team record for a game
2 Consecutive seasons as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy
39 Wins this season to lead the NHL