TAMPA — Few people outside the Lightning locker room see the work goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy puts in behind the scenes or the drive he has to be the best at his position.
They don’t see him sweating out 225-pound squats to strengthen his legs on a Friday night minutes after a game of turning away pucks. They don’t see how much he hates to lose, or how focused he gets going into a game. All they see are the dynamic saves, the way he can control a game in front of the net.
“His work ethic is on a different level,” Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov said. “His compete level is as high as it can be. He works all the time on his skill, he’s always in the gym first. He’s always there before and after practice, working on something that’s going to make him better. It doesn’t surprise me.
“I remember him when I was 16, 15. He was always the guy that cares about the game and wants to be better and he wants to be No. 1, and as we can see, he is.”
Vasilevskiy, 26, is the favorite to win his second Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s top goaltender in the regular season. He’s the only one of the three finalists — Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury and Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer — still playing. The winner will be announced Tuesday night.
What Vasilevskiy can accomplish at his age is rare. In the upcoming days, he can become just the fourth goaltender in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup twice and Vezina twice before reaching his 27th birthday.
In fact, according to NHL Stats, Vasilevskiy would be the first to accomplish that feat since criteria for earning the Vezina changed in 1981-82. It once was awarded to the goaltender who allowed the fewest goals. Now it is selected by a vote of the league’s 31 general managers.
Vasilevskiy won his first Vezina in 2018-19 and is a finalist a fourth straight season. This year he set career bests in goals-against average (2.21) and save percentage (.925) while becoming the first goaltender since Martin Brodeur to lead the league in wins a fourth straight season, going 31-10-1 with five shutouts.
“Vasy is our rock,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “I think he’s just a stabilizer back there. … It doesn’t surprise us anymore in the room because of the preparation and the work that he puts in. He’s the best goalie in the world, we think, and he gives us a chance every night.
“When you only have to score one goal in a Game 7, that says a lot,” added Stamkos, referring to the Lightning’s 1-0 Game 7 win over the Islanders in the semifinals. “So for sure he’s the backbone.”
How does greatness get better? Experience helps, and through his seven seasons, he has seen the Lightning go through ups and downs. He’s always been athletic and flexible, but over the years, he’s honed his mental approach.
“Vasy has a great ability to be able to stand there for four or five or six minutes with virtually nothing happening, and then have a couple of two-on-ones or some one-timers or three- or four-in-a-row screenshots with traffic in front of him and then nothing,” Lightning TV analyst Brian Engblom said.
“Maybe the team just won by three goals and they won it going away, but they gave up three just stellar chances in the first period and he stopped all three,” Engblom added. “So they could have been down by two, they could have been down by three, and you kind of forget about it because they won by three at the end of the night. That’s the thing with Vasy. He always starts on time.”
Ask anyone inside the locker room and Vasilevskiy quickly is mentioned as team MVP. He has saved the Lightning on many occasions when a turnover led to an odd-man rush, and there were times during the regular season when the team leaned on Vasilevskiy too much. But when his teammates lapsed, Vasilevskiy often came through.
“It’s all about experience and how the team is playing in front of you,” Vasilevskiy said. “When a team is playing like this in front of you, you just get a lot of confidence from them and you’re trying to help them as much as you can and just try to be at your best every night.”
Former NHL goaltender and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes said Vasilevskiy is setting a foundation to becoming one of the best ever. Weekes said Vasilevskiy is on a track similar to some of the greats, players like Brodeur, Fleury, Grant Fuhr and Henrik Lundqvist.
“Vasy is a bigger, stronger, more powerfully-built version of Henrik right now and Hank was one of the best who ever played,” Weekes said. “If you look at what Hank did his entire career, he was on some great Rangers teams and he carried that franchise his entire career.
“And when you look at what Vasy’s doing, it’s similar. All he needs to do is keep his head on his shoulders, stay focused and continue his work ethic and his approach to the game. Just continue all of that, but he’s on an amazing trajectory right now.”
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, NBCSN
• Calder Trophy (finalists: Kirill Kaprizov, Alex Nedeljkovic, Jason Robertson)
• Hart Trophy (finalists: Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid)
• Norris Trophy (finalists: Adam Fox, Victor Hedman, Cale Makar)
• Ted Lindsay Award (finalists: Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid)
• Vezina Trophy (finalists: Marc-Andre Fleury, Philipp Grubauer, Andrei Vasilevskiy)
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.