TAMPA — He is called the “Big Cat” for a reason. He makes saves that end up on highlight reels. Saves that make you want to replay them over and over.
And now his name is cemented in Lightning history.
Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy set the franchise record for career wins with his 132nd Saturday night, a 6-2 victory over the Ducks at Amalie Arena. He surpassed mentor Ben Bishop’s 131 wins.
Vasilevskiy, in his sixth NHL season, has spent his entire career with the Lightning. He set the wins record in 222 games. Bishop, with the Lightning from April 2013 to February 2017, set his mark in 227 games.
Vasilevskiy, 25, has led all league goaltenders in wins since Feb. 26, 2017, 102 in 149 games.
“It feels pretty good,” Vasilevskiy said about the milestone. “That was my dream.”
The goalie is never one for many words. But when he can talk about his former “goalie coach,” he isn’t as reticent.
“(Bishop is) great to me and to my family,” Vasilevksiy said. “I thank him, (but) it’s nice to beat him. I hope there’s more wins ahead.”
Coach Jon Cooper thinks Vasilevskiy could set an untouchable mark.
“If he stays healthy, it’ll probably be a tough record to break when it’s all said and done,” Cooper said, chuckling.
Cooper said he was surprised when he noticed Vasilevskiy inching toward the milestone. He didn’t think it would happen this fast.
“But there are players in this league who have worked really hard, and naturally he’s talented, but he doesn’t take that for granted,” Cooper said. “He battles every day, and he’s been a horse for us over the years.”
If you ask anyone on the team what Vasilevskiy is like, they’ll say he’s the kind of player who keeps pushing, never quits and, most of all, never settles.
“He’s a huge part (of the team),” center Brayden Point said. “He beats out a good goalie for that record.”
It didn’t look like Vasilevskiy’s franchise-worthy night was going to happen for the first period and a half. Anaheim battled heavily for puck possession, and Tampa Bay’s sloppy puck management held it back.
“When (the Ducks) were pressing us in the second period, (Vasilevskiy) was lights out for us,” Cooper said.
And Vasilevskiy’s play — combined with some good fortune — helped shift the momentum back in the Lightning’s favor about halfway through the second period. As the Lightning set up for a power play, Vasilevskiy left the puck behind his net for Victor Hedman, who skated up to the blue line and passed to Point, who skated in on the Ducks’ Ryan Miller and scored to make it 3-2 Tampa Bay. Vasilevskiy got an assist on the play.
From there, the Lightning added another goal in the second and two in the third.
And with the goals came the defensive play. The Lightning’s penalty kill stayed in check, going 3-for-3.
“Special teams was big for us,” Cooper said, “and led by our goalie.”
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 6 (Rutta, Conacher), 16:08. 2, Anaheim, Grant 6, 18:00 (sh). Penalties—Conacher, TB, (tripping), 1:42 Gudbranson, ANA, (tripping), 17:12.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 7 (Killorn, Cirelli), 5:28. 4, Anaheim, Rakell 8 (Fowler, Getzlaf), 7:57. 5, Tampa Bay, Point 7 (Hedman, Vasilevskiy), 12:39 (pp). 6, Tampa Bay, Maroon 5 (Paquette, Sergachev), 14:25. Penalties—Rutta, TB, (hooking), 5:54 Lindholm, ANA, (hooking), 12:22.
Third Period—7, Tampa Bay, Cirelli 5 (Kucherov, Hedman), 6:20 (pp). 8, Tampa Bay, Palat 7 (Gourde, Shattenkirk), 17:27 (pp). Penalties—Maroon, TB, (high sticking), 4:14 Terry, ANA, (slashing), 5:38 Cernak, TB, (roughing), 15:29 Holzer, ANA, (cross checking), 15:29 Cirelli, TB, (cross checking), 15:29 Ritchie, ANA, (cross checking), 15:29 Ritchie, ANA, Misconduct (misconduct), 15:29 Ritchie, ANA, (roughing), 15:29 Grant, ANA, (roughing), 20:00 Maroon, TB, (roughing), 20:00.
Shots on Goal—Anaheim 13-15-10_38. Tampa Bay 8-5-14_27. Power-play opportunities—Anaheim 0 of 3. Tampa Bay 3 of 3. Goalies—Anaheim, Miller 3-1-2 (27 shots-21 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 8-6-0 (38-36). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:33. Referees—Pierre Lambert, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—Jonny Murray, Derek Nansen.