TAMPA — The Lightning have become used to seeing a certain level of consistency from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the run he’s on now is something special.
Vasilevskiy stopped 28 shots — his night even busier than the total would indicate — to record his third straight shutout Tuesday in the Lightning’s 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars in a rematch of teams that met in last season’s Stanley Cup final.
Vasilevskiy has not allowed a goal in 200 minutes and 45 seconds of game time, the longest scoreless stretch of his seven-year NHL career. He has not permitted a goal in 10 straight periods.
“You talk about somebody that’s in a groove, he is most certainly in one,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Being around him for quite some time now, you see that confidence that builds in him. Just to watch his growth, it’s been just awesome to see. We’ve got to take advantage when he’s in a groove like this, and we are.”
With their season-high fifth straight victory, the longest active streak in the NHL, the Lightning (15-4-1) moved into a tie with Carolina for first place in the Central Division.
Dallas has certainly seen enough of Vasilevskiy.
In their first two meetings with the Lightning since falling in the Cup final, the Stars have been outscored 7-0, and Vasilevskiy has stopped all 48 shots he’s faced. Dating back to Tampa Bay’s Cup-clinching win in Game 6 of the final, Vasilevskiy has shut out Dallas in three straight games.
“He’s the best goalie in the league right now,” Lightning forward Blake Coleman said. “There’s a ton of confidence in front of him. We know he’s gonna give us a chance to win every night, and there’s certainly been some games even during this win streak that we haven’t been our best.
“He keeps us in games and gives us a chance to to win some low-scoring and some close games just because he’s keeping the puck out of the net. You can see he’s confident, he’s making the right reads, he’s playing the puck well behind the net, things like that that when a goalie is in a good rhythm, it’s just things you notice.”
Vasilevskiy spent much of the night protecting a one-goal lead against a Stars team that continually pressured the net. But he was ready from the start, turning away Jamie Oleksiak on a three-on-one rush just 37 seconds into the game.
In the final minutes of the first period, Andrew Cogliano had the puck in front of the net, but Vasilevskiy stopped him from point-blank range. In the second period, Stars captain Jamie Benn hit the far post on a wrister from the right circle. Midway into the third, Dallas defenseman Miro Heiskanen weaved through two Tampa Bay defenders and made a tricky back-handed shot that Vasilevskiy turned away with his shoulder.
“Listen, if there is any other goalie in the league other than (Vasilevskiy) in there tonight, we score some goals.” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “He was great and that’s why he is the best goalie in the league.”
For the second straight game, Lightning forward Ondrej Palat opened the scoring on the power play, beating Dallas goaltender Anton Khudobin with a one-timer from the right circle 7:29 into the first period. It marked the third straight successful power play for the Lightning following a rocky 2-for-15 stretch.
The difference in the Lightning’s 5-0 win over the Stars Saturday in Tampa was special teams. Tampa Bay had two power-play goals and was 6-for-6 on the penalty kill. That was the case again Tuesday as the matchup shifted to Dallas. The Lightning killed all three penalties and have now killed 17 straight and 27 of their past 28.
Yanni Gourde gave the Lightning a two-goal cushion with an empty-net goal with five seconds left in the game.
“I think we could still do a much better job playing in front of him,” Coleman said of Vasilevskiy. “Even though we’re not getting scored on a lot, a lot of that is on him. We can still limit some of the odd-man rushes, things like that. So if we clean that up, it’s gonna look even better, if that’s possible.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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