Lightning’s Vasilevskiy Proving He’s the Best Goalie in the NHL During Playoffs

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning. (from NBC Sports)

When one thinks about the greatest goalies of this generation to play in the NHL, it’s easy to instantly come up with a couple of names: Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Braden Holtby, and Pekka Rinne, just to name a few. The common denominator among all of those goalies is one thing above all else: consistency. Whether they played on bad teams or good ones, made deep playoff runs or never quite made it that far, their personal statistics and performance has always kept them in the conversation for the NHL’s best.

However, three of the four goalies I mentioned have not won Stanley Cups, and might never earn the honor to lift Lord Stanley over their heads. They are also all past their primes (save Price), and have a dwindling window of hopes for winning left in their careers. Not Andrei Vasilevskiy. No, Vasilevskiy is the ripe, young age of 26, already has one Cup championship to his name, and is locked up with a powerhouse team for nearly the next decade. Unless someone steps in and claims the title, Vasilevskiy has cemented himself this season as the best goalie in the NHL. Here’s a look at how he got here, how he can stay there, and what the future holds for him.

Vasilevskiy Has Had An Excellent Career So Far

Vasilevskiy is a six-foot-three, 225 lb. native of Tyumen, Russia, and was the Lightning’s first-round choice in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken at 19th overall. For a late first-round draft choice, “Vasy” has panned out quite nicely for the Bolts, and could be considered the best player taken that year considering how some of the top players drafted then are not even playing in the NHL anymore.

In 302 games played in his NHL career, Vasilevskiy is 190-83-19 with a 2.51 goals against average (GAA) and .920 save percentage (SV%), with 26 shutouts to his name. His winning percentage of .629 in his career is incredibly impressive, especially considering his young age. In his playoffs career, he has played in an astounding 72 postseason games, putting up a record of 43-26, a 2.32 GAA, .922 SV%, and three shutouts.

Vasilevskiy’s consistent excellence carried over into the 2020-21 NHL season as well, as he played in 42 of the Lightning’s 56 games during the shortened season, winning 31 of those starts. He posted a 2.21 GAA, .925 SV%, and five shutouts, the best numbers of his young career to date. So far in the 2021 playoffs, he has remained the hot hand; Vasilevskiy is 10-4 in 14 postseason games, with a 2.13 GAA, .935 SV%, and two shutouts.

Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (By Dirk Shadd | Times, from Tampa Bay Times)
Andrei Vasilevskiy makes a save against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (By Dirk Shadd | Times, from Tampa Bay Times)

The amazing goalie that Vasilevskiy has turned into didn’t happen overnight, but it isn’t anything new, either. During the 2015-16 season after the Lightning lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, Vasilevskiy had effectively taken the reins from Ben Bishop, quickly establishing himself as one of the most reliable starters in the NHL. In the 2017-18 season, he led the NHL in wins (44), and after going 39-10-4 through 53 games in the following 2018-19 season, he won his first Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie.

Vasilevskiy earned another Vezina Trophy nomination in the 2019-20 season, where he finished as a finalist behind Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets, who ended up taking home the hardware. His streak didn’t end there though; Vasilevskiy was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy again for the 2020-21 season, and it remains to be seen if he’ll end up victorious once again. The ceiling seems to be endlessly high for this goalie, and he continues to prove that this season.

Lightning Built Off Last Season In 2020-21

There’s no denying that playing behind one of the best teams in the entire NHL makes your job a little easier as a goalie, and the Lightning are just that. Coming off of their first Stanley Cup victory since 2004 in the 2019-20 playoffs, the Lightning built off their success from last season, and by all accounts carried the same skill and determination into this season.

The Lightning finished 9th in league standings in the 2020-21 season, with a record of 36-17-3, good for 75 points. Mind you, they accomplished this without arguably their best forward in Nikita Kucherov, who missed the entirety of the regular season due to hip surgery, but returned just in time for the start of the playoffs, and who now leads all skaters in total playoffs points.

Vasilevskiy and his goalie partners helped the Bolts to allow just 145 goals during the regular season, which ranked sixth best in the league.

Vasilevskiy’s Competition Hasn’t Been Easy

It is true that Vasilevskiy has played behind an elite roster for most of his time in Tampa Bay, but that shouldn’t – and doesn’t – take away from his prowess in the crease. The opponents at the other end of the ice from him have been no pushovers, and when it’s counted most, Vasilevskiy has outplayed them at every stop.

Focusing on this postseason in particular, just look at the teams and the goalies that Vasilevskiy and the Lightning have had to face: the Florida Panthers, whose goalie depth chart boasts Sergei Bobrovsky, Chris Driedger, and Spencer Knight; the Carolina Hurricanes, whose goalies include Alex Nedeljkovic, Petr Mrazek, and James Reimer; and currently the New York Islanders, whose goalies Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin have been a highly effective tandem all season long.

This is not to say that Vasilevskiy has never been outplayed. In the 2018-19 season, the Lightning won the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best team after an historically good season, and went on to be swept by the bottom-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, whom nobody but the most dedicated Jackets fans could have thought would come out on top in that series. But it’s exactly these types of roadblocks and experiences that have made the Lightning, and Vasilevskiy, prepared for the adversity that they know they must overcome in order to emerge as champions.

Their Cup victory the following season, as well as their appearance in the Stanley Cup Semifinals this season, have done more than enough to prove that they learned from that particular experience.

Lightning’s & Vasilevskiy’s Futures Are Together

Perhaps the best part about Vasilevskiy is that Lightning fans get to have him on their roster for the better part of the rest of his career, perhaps even all of it. After his last contract expired before this season, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBoise inked him to a new contract: eight years, $76 million total. That’s a whopping $9.5 million AAV for Vasilevskiy, but I would say he has more than earned that.

Vasilevskiy has a no move clause (NMC) built into his deal for the next four seasons, and a modified no trade clause (M-NTC) for the next three seasons after that, so it’s pretty simple at the end of the day: if he wants to stay in Tampa, he’s staying in Tampa. And the way this team is built for now and the future, I don’t see any reason why he won’t be here for the rest of his deal.

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