NEW YORK — In the waning minutes of Friday’s Game 2 loss to the Rangers, Andrei Vasilevskiy could only watch from the bench as the opposing goaltender and the defense in front of him executed the Lightning’s blueprint to closing out games with familiar precision.
Igor Shesterkin opened this series and its much-hyped goalie matchup by saying that Vasilevskiy is the best in the world. And even after outplaying Vasilevskiy through the first two games of the Eastern Conference final, Shesterkin hasn’t changed his opinion.
“Andrei is still the best goalie in the world and the series is to four wins, so we just have to keep on playing,” he said.
Despite allowing a late third-period goal to Nick Paul, Shesterkin stopped 29 of 31 shots, including 24 straight after allowing an early first-period power play goal by Nikita Kucherov. And the way the Rangers locked down their own end in the final two minutes of regulation, they gave a Lightning-esque defensive performance.
“When the score was 3-2, we just knew we had to put out a solid defense, keep blocking the puck and I just believed in the guys,” Shesterkin said. “We all just kept working together to keep the score at 3-2.”
In those final two minutes, Shesterkin made three saves and defenseman Jacob Trouba blocked Steven Stamkos’ open shot.
“We had the chance at the end,” Paul said. “The puck goes one way, (it) could be a different game. So you can’t focus on the things that went wrong. You’ve just got to keep your focus, keep playing the same way. And if you keep creating those chances, good things are going to happen.”
Can’t count on Brayden Point being a savior
The Lightning are certainly not the same team without Brayden Point, especially given the way he was playing before he sustained a lower-body injury in Game 7 against Toronto.
Would he give the Lightning a better chance against the Rangers? Of course, coach Jon Cooper said, but the team can’t bank on Point being a savior.
“He’s continuing to progress, but we’re not sitting here saying, ‘Oh, he’s going to miraculously come out for Game 3,’” Cooper said.
Point skated on consecutive days in New York and looked strong in his second skating session Thursday, but his return remains indefinite.
“You’re not as deep,” Cooper said. “He’s, in my opinion, one of the best players in the league. And I don’t think I’m out of line saying that. … Yeah, in a perfect world we’d love to have him, but we it’s not like we haven’t won a playoff series without him.”
Explain your tiger, please
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Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev wasn’t prepared for the question, even though he’s worn the navy blue silk Gucci tie with a roaring tiger head on it in the past.
But before Game 2, he was asked, what’s on your tie?
Sergachev looked down with confusion and said, “It’s a tiger, I guess.”
Like his teammates, Sergachev dresses well and likes to express his personality through his style. A black version of his tie retails for $220 on the Gucci website.
But this is the conference final, so it is getting considerably more attention. The exchange gave a little glimpse into how loose the Lightning were going into the second game of the seven-game series.
As Sergachev awkwardly fought for words to explain his accessory, teammate Pat Maroon, seated next to him, laughed and said,” That’s a good-looking tiger. He likes tigers.”
Sergachev, who has a pet cat named Niagara, then interjected, saying he likes cats, including the Lightning’s “Big Cat,” Vasilevskiy.
“No, I like cats,” Sergachev said. “That’s why we’re good friends with Vasy.”
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