We saw things Thursday night we aren’t used to seeing from Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lighting goaltender was caught leaning the wrong way on a bad-angle shot. He lost sight of the puck after an attempt went between his legs. And he committed a turnover at the side of the net.
But in every instance, he was able to recover thanks to his own efforts or with the help of his teammates.
With almost no room for error in a tight playoff series, the Lightning’s most important player again made the big saves when he needed to, helping Tampa Bay to a 2-1 win in Game 3 and its first lead of the Stanley Cup semifinal series.
Vasilevskiy stopped 27 of 28 shots, including 20 over the final two periods. His teammates blocked 21 more.
Vasilevskiy has outstanding concentration and an ability to find the puck anywhere on the ice. He makes the most of his size, positions himself well, has tremendous lateral movement, and can make athletic saves when necessary.
How tough is he to beat? Just ask Kyle Palmieri, who entered the series with seven playoff goals but has yet to get a puck past the four-time Vezina finalist despite numerous quality chances from in close.
Vasilevskiy shrugged off a Palmieri attempt from the front of the net after a Jean-Gabriel Pageau feed from below the goal line in the first period. Though he leaned the wrong way, Vasilevskiy managed to get his head around to deflect a Palmieri shot from above the goal line off his mask later in the period. And he hugged the post to stop a promising Palmieri chance from below the left circle in the second.
Vasilevskiy couldn’t locate the puck after a Pageau shot off the rush went through his legs in the second period, but Vasilevskiy was positioned so well the puck still kicked wide of the net.
Vasilevskiy’s ability to play the puck relieves pressure on Lightning defensemen and slows opponents’ ability to forecheck. But a miscommunication with defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in the first period resulted in a turnover at the side of the net. Casey Cizikas stole the puck and passed it back out front, but Tampa Bay center Yanni Gourde swept into the slot to clear it out of harm’s way.
It seemed only fair after all of the times Vasilevskiy has bailed out his teammates this postseason.
Here’s how we graded the rest of Game 3:
Brayden Point never ceases to amaze. His speed is off the charts, and so is his hockey acumen. He shuts down opponents’ top lines and still generates offense. He makes skilled plays in tight spaces. And he does something seemingly every game that leaves you shaking your head.
Game 3 was no exception.
Seconds after a Tampa Bay power play expired in the final minute of the second period, Victor Hedman shot from the left circle. The puck appeared to hit a body in front of the net and deflect back to Point.
Though he was pushed to the ice by Cizikas, Point still managed to gain control of the puck and sweep it toward the net. It went through three sets of legs (defenseman Andy Greene, Lightning center Anthony Cirelli and goaltender Semyon Varlamov) before finding the back of the net.
The game-winning goal was the 11th of the postseason for Point, who has scored in six straight playoff games. He became the first Lightning player to do so and the first in the NHL since Ottawa’s Martin Havlat in 2006.
Finding their center
The Islanders make it difficult to move through the middle of the ice, putting five guys in the neutral zone and being active with their sticks. But the Lightning used their speed to find ways to maneuver through center ice, and one such rush led to the opening goal.
Midway through the first period, a New York line change resulted in an easy entry for Tampa Bay. Ryan McDonagh started the breakout by passing across the ice to Erik Cernak in the defensive zone. With no one to pressure Cernak, he took a stride and hit Blake Coleman on the fly as he approached the New York blue line.
Coleman’s shot from the left circle was steered aside by Varlamov, but Coleman boxed out defenseman Noah Dobson, retrieved the puck and threw a blind, backhand pass through the crease. The puck deflected off the skate of Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy to Gourde, who banged it into the open net.
Credit Coleman’s persistence and Gourde’s opportunism in the offensive zone. But everything started at the other end of the ice.
Cernak likely thought he was bringing calm to a chaotic situation, but all he did was create more confusion.
With Tampa Bay leading 1-0 and just over three minutes remaining in the second period, New York defenseman Ryan Pulock shot the puck into the Lightning zone. The puck took a crazy carom off the boards and hit the back of the net.
Cizikas collected the puck and put it in front, where Matt Martin shot from the left circle. With Cal Clutterbuck battling in front, Cernak tried to push the puck back to Vasilevskiy, but it wound up going off Clutterbuck’s skate into the net instead.
A better choice would have been to knock the puck into the corner. Anywhere but toward his own net.
Protecting the lead
The Islanders pulled Varlamov in favor of an extra attacker with just under two minutes remaining, and the Lightning put on a clinic on how to protect a lead.
Mathew Barzal fanned on a shot from the left circle, and McDonagh stripped him of the puck. Hedman then cleared the puck out of the zone.
Goodrow created a turnover in the neutral zone. Alex Killorn pounced on a loose puck and sent it back down the ice. After another clear, McDonagh picked off a pass at center ice in the closing seconds.
Despite a 6-on-5 advantage, the Islanders did not manage a single shot on goal.
You can’t do it any better than that.
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