Andrei Vasilevskiy (left) and Braydon Coburn (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Andrei Vasilievskiy came in to relieve Ben Bishop in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, but will it be his only appearance? Nobody on the Lightning was saying after the game, but if Bishop is out of the lineup, they have supreme confidence in their rookie goaltender.
TAMPA – Going into Game 2 of the Stanley Cup, all the chatter about the untested rookies surrounded Teuvo Teravainen and Jonathan Drouin. After a stunning turn of events, that narrative may shift directly to Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The 20-year-old is clearly Tampa’s goaltender of the future. But, depending upon the status of starter Ben Bishop for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Monday night, that future might come upon us a lot sooner than anyone thought. The cone of silence surrounding injuries in the playoffs was quickly enforced by the Lightning after the game, but it sure looks as though Bishop is dealing with a groin issue.
Bishop came out of the game at the 7:40 mark of the third period and returned at 8:49, when the Lightning scored to take a 4-3 lead. He came back to play, but then left the game for good at the 12:30 mark and Vasilevskiy finished up. None of the Lightning would talk about Bishop’s status and Bishop did not make himself available, but it was confirmed that Bishop was getting treatment after the game and did not have a stomach issue or anything like that.
So it’s conceivable that Vasilevskiy, who got the victory in goal because he was there when the Lightning took the lead for good, could be the Lightning goaltender in Game 3. If that happens, the Lightning has unwavering confidence in him.
“I know we have two unbelievable goaltenders,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “When ‘Bish’ had to leave, there wasn’t an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself. I mean, the kid proved it when he went in. He was great.”
Contrast that to what Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had to say about the goaltending at his end of the ice in Game 2. Corey Crawford stopped just 20 of 24 shots in the game. One of them that eluded him was the third goal of the game for the Lightning by Tyler Johnson, who jammed it in from in close from a bad angle with not much room. When asked to assess Crawford’s performance in Game 2, Quenneville replied, “Just OK.”
Crawford wasn’t the only Blackhawk who was just OK. The Lightning, led by Hedman’s off-the-charts play in his own end, have limited to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to just one assist in the first two games. It got to the point where Quenneville split the duo up to get one of them away from Hedman. Having Hedman shut down Toews and Kane is one thing. But with two assists in Game 2, he’s outscoring them as well.
So could we see a battle of the backups in Game 3? After all, Scott Darling bailed out the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the first round and has proved he is capable of handling playoff pressure. It’s pretty unlikely Chicago will make a change, but Tampa may be forced into it. There is clearly an issue with Bishop, it’s simply a matter of how serious it is. Prior to coming out the first time, he had a conversation with Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, the content of which nobody was disclosing.
“We said, uh, what did we talk about?” Hedman said. “We talked about the ice. The ice was a little bit soft. I have no clue what happened. I guess we’ll see (Sunday) what the reason was or what’s wrong with him.”
There was not much wrong with the Lightning’s offensive game in Game 2. After sitting back into a defensive shell in Game 1, the Lightning was far more assertive offensively and, more importantly, got some secondary scoring. After being relatively silent in Game 1, the Triplet Trio of Johnson between Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov struck for two goals on the evening.
“I thought we were a lot more aggressive today than we were in Game 1,” Johnson said. “I thought in Game 1, we were a little bit hesitant in making plays. That kind of added on not being able to execute. So I thought tonight’s game was a lot better from the line.”
Johnson said before the game that he, in particular, needed to step up and have more of an impact on the proceedings. “I would say ‘Johnny’ is wrong in that,” Cooper said. “They’ve been outstanding from start to finish. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Johnny’s leading the league or darn close in scoring in the playoffs. You can’t score every night. It’s really hard, unless your name is Gretzky.”
And if your name is Vasilevskiy, perhaps this is your moment to shine. Even though he’s just 20, Vasilevskiy is not a stranger to pressure situations. Even though Russia did not win an under-18 or World Junior title with him in the net, he distinguished himself at both levels with save percentages that ranged between .933 and .950. He was the KHL’s rookie of the year last year and was the backup on Russia’s gold medal World Championship team.
“He’s a great athlete, always the first guy here at the rink, he’s here for six or seven hours. It feels like he never leaves,” Hedman said of Vasilevskiy. “He’s a world-class athlete and it’s going to show down the line here how good a goalie he can be.”
Perhaps sooner than anyone would have expected.
GAME 2 THREE STARS
1. Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay): Was an absolute beast on the blueline, shutting down the Blackhawks at one end, chalking up two assists at the other.
2. Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay): He put pressure on himself to be better, and he was, by a mile.
3. Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago): Continues to be the Blackhawks best all-round forward in the final.