Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy makes season debut against Hurricanes

The Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner has been out since the start of the season following back surgery.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his season debut tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his season debut tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, North Carolina. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 22, 2023|Updated Nov. 25, 2023

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made his season debut Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Vasilevskiy missed the first 20 games of the season while recovering from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. With Jonas Johansson carrying the bulk of the load in goal, Tampa Bay went 9-6-5 in Vasilevskiy’s absence.

“He hasn’t played an NHL game since April, so I know he is eager,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said following the morning skate. “There is a ton of work (that) has gone in to get him to this spot. He has worked his tail off, and this was the date circled on the calendar months ago and we hit the target date.”

Cooper had been suggesting for the past several days that Vasilevskiy was close to a return.

Asked following Wednesday morning’s skate if it was possible Vasilevskiy would return during the current three-game road trip, Cooper responded, “There’s a very good chance.” Thursday, the Lightning placed backup goaltender Matt Tomkins on waivers, the final procedural move needed to activate Vasilevskiy from long-term injured reserve to the active roster.

Following Friday’s game, the Lightning play Monday in Denver against the Avalanche and Tuesday vs. the Coyotes in Tempe, Arizona.

Wednesday marked eight weeks since Vasilevskiy had microdiscectomy surgery on Sept. 28. He was placed on long-term disability injured reserve at the beginning of the regular season and already has met the 10-game, 24-day to be eligible to return. Because he was on the opening-night roster, the Lightning became salary-cap compliant once they sent Tomkins to AHL Syracuse.

Despite some pedestrian numbers, Johansson (8-4-4, 3.44 goals-against average, .894 save percentage) filled in well for Vasilevskiy. Johansson entered Wednesday’s game against Winnipeg leading the league in games played (16), minutes (958) and goals allowed (55) while facing 69 more shots on goal (517) than any other goaltender in the league (San Jose’s Mackenzie Blackwood was second at 448).

“Goaltending has not been an issue for us,” Cooper said. “They give us a chance to win games. ... Our game has been inconsistent. Not inconsistent that it’s 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off. It’s been 53 minutes on, seven minutes off. ... We’ve got more wins than losses, and if we weren’t getting great goaltending we probably wouldn’t have done that.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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