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Will Lightning get Andrei Vasilevskiy back Sunday for the Rangers?

The goaltender went into the COVID-19 protocol last Sunday. He hasn’t played since, but he was on the active roster Saturday.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during a stoppage in play against the Los Angeles Kings during second period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during a stoppage in play against the Los Angeles Kings during second period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 2

TAMPA — The Lightning are expected to have starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy back from the COVID-19 protocol when they play the Rangers on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

Vasilevskiy, who entered the protocol last Sunday as the Lightning returned from the holiday break, has missed the past three games, a stretch in which Tampa Bay has allowed an average 5.3 goals a game in going 2-0-1.

Backup Brian Elliott also went into protocol last Sunday, forcing the Lightning to call up goaltenders Max Lagace and Hugo Alnefelt from AHL Syracuse to fill their spots. Elliott returned for Friday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers at Amalie Arena.

The Lightning has not announced that Vasilevskiy has exited the protocol, but Alnefelt was reassigned to Syracuse on Saturday, and Lagace is no longer listed on the roster. As of Saturday evening, Vasilevskiy and Elliott are the only two goaltenders listed on the active roster.

Because Vasilevskiy entered the protocol six days ago, he could return under the league’s new policy in the United States that allows players, coaches and staff who test positive to return after five days if symptoms are gone or they return a negative test, and they are cleared by the team physician.

The Lightning have clearly missed Vasilevskiy’s presence in net. The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner is the backbone of the defense, and without him, some miscues in the back end were costly in this week’s games.

The Lightning lost 9-3 to the Panthers on Thursday, their worst loss of the season, in a game marred by poor coverage in front of Lagace for two periods and Alnefelt for one that allowed Florida to capitalize on second-chance shots up close. And Elliott, playing in his first game in 20 days Friday, committed two costly puck-handing mistakes that led to goals against the Rangers.

The return of top right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak, who could also be back in the lineup Sunday, would also provide a boost to the defense.

Despite missing the past three games, Vasilevskiy entered Saturday night tied for the league lead with 17 wins. He has won his past seven starts and is 12-2-0 in his last 14 games, with a .934 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average.

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The Lightning also reassigned forward Remi Elie and defenseman Sean Day to Syracuse on Saturday.

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