TAMPA — Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy knew his game wasn’t where it needed to be at the end of 2019.
Starting the new year, the “Big Cat” had only boasted a 17-9-1 record. Nothing to shrug at, but nothing like what the reigning Vezina Trophy winner wanted, either.
Tampa Bay defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 Tuesday night in its first contest on home ice since Jan. 14. Once again, Vasilevskiy came up big in a game when his team needed him, stopping 29 shots to secure the win.
With the victory, Vasilevskiy tied the franchise record for goalie point streaks with his 16th point, a stretch dating back to Dec. 17. He holds a 14-0-2 record in the stint. Nikolai Khabibulin set the record in 2003.
The Lightning closed out a stint against Western Conference teams with a point streak of their own (11 points) and five wins in six games.
“(Vasilevskiy) has been huge,” Stamkos said. “He took it to heart at the beginning of the year and really was just grinding away. We see the work that he puts in behind the scenes, but he’s getting rewarded now just because of how solid he’s been.”
The Golden Knights out-shot the home team 25-17. The chances were there, but the results said otherwise.
“When he plays like that, he gives us a chance to win every night,” Stamkos said of Vasilevskiy. “Us coming off that trip, I don’t think we were sharp early on, but Vasy was great tonight, and I thought we played a pretty good third period. We stuck with it and Vasy gave us a chance to be in the game.”
The Golden Knights put up plenty of shots, some ricocheting off the iron so hard you could hear the ping three levels up in the press box. Others skid by the goalposts, just a stick’s blade away from getting on the board.
Vegas’ first goal came through traffic around the front of the net, and its second came off a tip from the right side as Vasilevskiy defended a shot from his left. But the Golden Knights couldn’t get another one past him.
“Vasy made some big saves for us,” Brayden Point said. “He weathered our storm and we get a couple of goals at some good times.”
Vasilevskiy has never met Khabibulin, and he thinks the record is “pretty cool.” But he isn’t all too worried about it or the points streak. He’s worried about getting the win and another two points in the process.
“It helps our team to be high in the standings,” he said after the win. “The record is good, but a better place in the standings is even better.”
The Golden Knights played in front of the net enough to get the team riled up toward the end. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman dropped the gloves against Vegas’ Max Pacioretty with about five minutes to go in the third. And the West Coast team continued to keep Tampa Bay on the tip of their skates until the very end. Nevertheless, Vasilevskiy didn’t flinch.
“He’s our backbone,” Tyler Johnson said. “He’s the guy where when he’s playing well he makes our lives a lot easier. I thought tonight we hung him out to dry a couple of times – in the last few games more so than what we’d want — but we have a lot of confidence when he’s back there.”
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.