TAMPA — Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy surprised his coach and some of his teammates Monday by joining them on the ice at Amalie Arena and participating in practice for the first time since having back surgery in late September.
Vasilevskiy, who faced shots and won a practice game, joked afterward that he had picked up his first victory of the season.
“Feels amazing,” Vasilevskiy said. “Obviously, it’s been a long time. So, obviously, it’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. I took the time to, you know, to recover well to prepare myself for the first practice, and so I feel good.”
Vasilevskiy, who has been out after having microdiscectomy surgery on Sept. 28 to address a lumbar disk herniation, said he is still at least two weeks away from returning from the injured reserve list. The initial prognosis had a recovery timeframe of eight to 10 weeks.
Vasilevskiy said feels he is on schedule but would not commit to a timeline.
“We’ll see how it is,” he said. “I think we’re about two weeks away from that eight weeks from that surgery (mark). And so once we hit that eight-week mark, we’ll go from there.”
Vasilevskiy said the injury was a result of “pushing too hard” in the gym.
“It’s just such a silly, silly injury and was avoidable,” he said. “Same as my first surgery ... six, seven years ago. It was after the hard workout in the gym, the squats and overhead presses and all this bodybuilding stuff. But as I say, very avoidable and I just wasn’t smart about pushing myself too hard.”
Vasilevskiy said his current injury will change how he works out away from the ice.
“I guess the first surgery wasn’t a good enough lesson,” Vasilevskiy said. “The injury was totally avoidable, not even hockey-related. It was gym-related. So I think now I will spend a lot more time on the ice.”
Vasilevskiy, 29, was diagnosed with a herniated disk before training camp. The 2019 Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goaltender is coming off his sixth straight season of at least 30 wins, going 34-22-4 in 2022-23.
That he is close to a return is a very hopeful sign for the Lightning.
“It’s great to have your best him out there, and seeing he’s well and getting back out there and stuff,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “... Obviously, he’s not there yet, but, you know, it’s great to see him, get to see him working in practice and back in action.”
Vasilevskiy will continue to skate with his teammates and will make his first road trip of the season this week as Tampa Bay heads to St. Louis and Chicago.
But he likely will watch his backup, Jonas Johanson, who has held down the net in Vasilevskiy’s absence. Largely untested before this season, Johanson has gone 5-3-4 with a 3.42 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. He has earned nothing but praise from his teammates, including Vasilevskiy.
“He’s been great. Obviously, it’s it’s not an easy job. Believe me, I know,” Vasilevskiy said with a smile. “But he’s been amazing. In some games we just didn’t play as well, but I thought he was really rock solid and we’re right there in those races. So, it’s big. He was a big part of that, for sure.”
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Erik Cernak, who left Saturday’s game in the second period after taking a hard hit into the boards, was not on the ice Monday. The team described the defenseman’s status as day to day, and he is expected to participate in Tuesday’s morning skate in St. Louis.
“Obviously, he’s listed as day to day and didn’t practice (Monday), but I talked to him before and he said he’s feeling good,” assistant coach Rob Zettler said. “So, we’re hopeful.”
Right wing Nikita Kucherov, who missed Saturday’s game with an illness, was a full participant in practice.
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