TAMPA — Winning the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup are pretty good consolation prizes for missing out on the Vezina Trophy.
Andrei Vasilevskiy claimed the postseason MVP award Wednesday night after the Lightning’s 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens, repeating as Stanley Cup champions. He’s the first goaltender born outside of North America and the third Russian to win the honor.
“No question he’s the best,” right wing Nikita Kucherov said of Vasilevskiy. “I was telling him every day, ‘Vasy, you’re the MVP. You’re the best player.’”
Vasilevskiy had a stellar postseason coming off an incredible regular-season run. His 16 wins in the playoffs led the league as well as his shutouts (five). He’s the third goalie in NHL history to post multiple shutouts in Stanley-Cup clinching games (also Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup final against Dallas).
It was sometimes hard to find the right words to describe what Vasilevskiy does night in and night out for his teammates.
“Vasy, he’s just a competitor,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He’s never satisfied, he always battles to become better. I don’t know what it is with those Russian kids, but they’re just warriors — Kuch, Sergy (Mikhail Sergachev) and Vasy — they just work their asses off all the time, just try to be a difference maker.”
Vasilevskiy’s goals-against average (1.9) was the second-lowest among postseason goaltenders, and his .937 save percentage topped the leaderboard. Vasilevskiy is also the first goaltender since the Canadiens’ Ken Dryden to play in every playoff game en route to back-to-back Stanley Cups (1977-78).
“His work ethic is out of control,” said left wing Pat Maroon, who won his third straight Cup on Wednesday. “You guys don’t see that side of it when we’re in the rink and how he competes, and how he works … he’s just truly remarkable. I’m very proud of Vasy. He deserves it and that’s why he’s the best goalie in the league.”
Vasilevskiy’s streak of wins following a loss is also still intact. The Lightning have not lost back-to-back games at any point over their last two playoff runs, moving to 14-0 on Wednesday following the Game 4 overtime loss in Montreal.
Vasilevskiy wasn’t expecting the honor. He was anticipating Kucherov, who led the league with 32 points, would take home the franchise’s third Conn Smythe.
When commissioner Gary Bettman said Vasilevskiy’s name during the trophy ceremony, the former All-Star goaltender didn’t hear it until his teammates turned to him and told him to go claim it.
“I still can’t believe it,” Vasilevskiy said. “The whole team deserves it for sure and just to have five shutouts in one playoffs (run), it’s all about teamwork. ... It’s not about me, it’s about our team.”
After the trophy ceremonies, Vasilevskiy called his family in Russia while still on the ice, just like he did last year. He wanted to show appreciation to those who waited up until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. watching him and the Lightning make history.
“That’s amazing, just to share this moment with them,” Vasilevskiy said. “I felt their support.”
With the Conn Smythe honor — which is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association — Vasilevskiy becomes the 16th goalie to win the award and the first Lightning goaltender to do so. The last goalie to win the Conn Smythe before Vasilevskiy was the Kings’ Jonathan Quick in 2012.
Kucherov said Vasilevskiy, who placed second in Vezina Trophy voting — general managers pick the best goaltender in the regular season — would win that honor every year if he was in a different market.
His coach had the final word.
“He makes guys like us look good,” Jon Cooper said. “But what’s remarkable to me is I can’t believe how he shuts the door in the biggest games of his career. … He’s remarkable to watch.”
How we voted
Eduardo A. Encina:
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy
2. Nikita Kucherov
3. Ryan McDonagh
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy
2. Nikita Kucherov
3. Brayden Point
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