DENVER — Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s landmark 100th career playoff game was one he’ll quickly try to forget. It was the first postseason contest in which he allowed seven or more goals.
The Colorado Avalanche peppered him with 30 shots (23 in the first two decisive periods) as the Lightning fell 7-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night.
Teammates refused to put blame on him. In fact, defenseman Ryan McDonagh pointed the finger directly at himself for taking an “undisciplined penalty” a minute into the game. The roughing penalty, which came as the Lightning fought off an early Avalanche barrage, led to Valeri Nichushkin’s power-play goal 2:54 into the contest, and the beginning of a seemingly unending series of Colorado scoring opportunities.
“Turning over the puck against this group is going to cost you,” McDonagh said, deflecting blame from the Lightning’s star goalie and listing lessons learned in the first two games of “what not to do.”
“Playing out of structure and giving up too many odd-man looks. That’s going to cost you, too.”
A night when the 27-year-old Russian became just the 20th goalie all-time to appear in 100 playoff contests was also filled with ignominious firsts. In Vasilevskiy’s first 93 playoff starts (five times he entered as a substitute) he had never given up three goals in the first period. That’s now happened in two straight games.
Over his seven playoff seasons, Vasilevskiy had given up six goals in just three playoff games — including Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers. He had never given up more.
After the Avalanche scored five goals in the first two periods, some viewers may have expected Vasilevskiy to be pulled. Lightning coach Jon Cooper poo-pooed the idea after the game. He’s a big believer in letting goalies fight through adversity.
“This is the playoffs, and we’re here to win hockey games,” Cooper said. “Vasy gives us the best chance to win a hockey game.”
He’ll be in goal when Game 3 begins Monday night at Amalie Arena.
“He’s the best goalie in the world,” Cooper said. “We win together, we lose together.”
Even if Cooper pulled him, “I don’t think he would have come out,” he said. “That’s what kind of competitor he is.”
After a shaky start in Game 1 on Wednesday, Vasilevskiy settled down. He held the Avalanche scoreless in the second and third periods before giving up the winning goal in overtime. The consensus among players and pundits was that he was going to be difficult to score on in Game 2. That didn’t occur.
Five minutes after Nichushkin’s goal, the Avalanche had an odd-man break. Defenseman Erik Cernak fell to the ice, but Colorado’s Josh Manson kept the puck a tick longer and scored high left for the second goal. The third goal came six minutes after that, when Andre Burakovsky snuck a rebound past Vasilevskiy.
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This could be reason for optimism or worry, but it’s not the first time Vasilevskiy has given up four-plus goals in back-to-back games. In fact, it happened three times during the 2021-22 regular season. And giving up seven goals, although extremely rare, is not unprecedented. But it was the first time Vasilevskiy had done it since February 22, 2020, at Arizona.
The Lightning have been tested in the playoffs multiple times, but not quite like this. McDonagh, a 33-year-old veteran in his fifth postseason with the Lightning, was not about to cast blame on his goalie, who ranks 14th all-time with 61 playoff wins.
“He stopped probably three-fourths of the breakaways and odd-man looks,” McDonagh said. “That’s too many chances against him. We’ve gotta start by defending harder.”
Captain Steven Stamkos echoed McDonagh.
“We left him out to dry (Sunday),” the 14-year veteran said. “He’s been our backbone for years and years and years. We owe it to him to have a better game next game. It could have been more. He made some unbelievable saves.”
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