Peter Budaj

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Bolts ‘very interested’ in extending Budaj

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Tampa Bay needs a backup for Andrei Vasilevskiy next season, and it might already have one in house.

Peter Budaj, acquired at the deadline in the Ben Bishop-to-Los Angeles trade, played well enough down the stretch to pique the interest of Bolts GM Steve Yzerman.

“We were very please with the finish to the season Peter had,” Yzerman said on Thursday, in an interview with WDAE 620 radio. “We’d very much be interested in bringing him back.”

Budaj, 34, was one of the biggest surprises in the league last year. He was originally signed to be the Kings’ No. 3 netminder, but ascended to the starting job after an injury to Jonathan Quick and ineffective play from Jeff Zatkoff.

It was a noteworthy development for a guy that played exactly one game during the ’15-16 campaign, and was out of the NHL entirely the year prior. Budaj responded by going 30-21-3 this season, with a .915 save percentage and 2.18 GAA — most of it with the Kings.

After joining the Bolts, he started four times and won three games as the club made a frenetic late push for a playoff spot.

This summer’s goalie market is expected to be crazy — it’s been active already, and it’s only the third week in May — so the Bolts might be smart to lock Budaj in now, rather than see how free agency unfolds. He’s coming off a one-year, $600,000 deal, so he could probably be retained on the cheap. And if he struggles, there’s always Kristers Gudlevskis in the system.

Gudlevskis, 24, has appeared in three career games with the Bolts, spending extensive time in the American League. He’s currently a restricted free agent.

Goalie nods: Vezina contenders face off in Columbus

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Massive game on Sunday evening in Columbus where the Blue Jackets will be hosting the Washington Capitals.

What is on the line?

How about two points in the race for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division as well as the battle for the best record in the league. The Capitals enter the game with a four-point lead in the standings and can take a stranglehold on the division and Presidents’ Trophy if they can pick up a win (especially in regulation). But if the Blue Jackets are able to take it they will cut that deficit down to two points while both teams would have four games to play over the next week, creating a wild finish down the stretch.

Along with owning the NHL’s two best records, these two teams also boast two of the best goalies in the league in Braden Holtby (Washington) and Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus).

As expected, both will be in net on Sunday evening.

It’s a goaltending matchup that features last year’s Vezina Trophy winner (Holtby) going up against the goalie that will probably be the front-runner to take it this year (Bobrovsky).

Both of them have already won the Vezina once in their careers and it is quite likely that one of them will it win again in 2017.

This season both goalies are in the top-five in wins, total save percentage, even-strength save percentage, goals against average and shutouts.

There isn’t a better head-to-head goalie matchup anywhere in the NHL right now.

Elsewhere on Sunday…

— In the afternoon games it was Anton Khudobin against Corey Crawford in the Bruins-Blackhawks game, Jaroslav Halak vs. Robin Lehner in the Islanders-Sabres game, Jusse Saros vs Jake Allen in the Predators-Blues game, and Eddie Lack vs. Matt Murray in the Hurricanes-Penguins game.

— It will be Peter Budaj trying to get two big points for the Tampa Bay Lightning when they host the Dallas Stars on Sunday night.

Calvin Pickard will go against Devan Dubnyk in Minnesota when the Colorado Avalanche visit the Wild.

Ryan Miller gets the call for the Vancouver Canucks when they host the San Jose Sharks. No word yet from the Sharks on their starter.

Steve Mason is back in the Philadelphia Flyers net when they visit Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.

— It will be Brian Elliott in net for the Calgary Flames when they host the Anaheim Ducks.

Jonathan Quick starts for the Los Angeles Kings when they host Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Goalie nods: Vezina candidates clash as Bobrovsky faces Holtby

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Sergei Bobrovsky leads the NHL in GAA, at 2.04. Braden Holtby sits second, at 2.05.

Bobrovsky leads the NHL in wins, with 39. Holtby sits second, with 37.

Holtby leads the NHL in shutouts, with eight. Bobrovsky sits third, with six.

Perhaps you see where this is going.

Tonight, the two will square off in a much-anticipated game, as the Jackets travel to Washington to take on the Caps.

“It’s a great opponent,” Bobrovsky said, per NHL.com. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s one of the best teams in the League, so we’ll see. We’ll see who’s going to be better.”

Holtby is the reigning Vezina winner, while Bobrovsky captured the trophy three years prior. Both have already been unofficially shortlisted for this season’s award — along with Devan Dubnyk and, perhaps, Cam Talbot — but tonight’s game is about much, much more than goaltending.

The Caps head into the tilt two points up on Columbus for first spot in the NHL (and just one up on Pittsburgh). Columbus has made it clear it would love to capture the first Preisdents’ Trophy in franchise history, and a victory tonight would be a big step towards it. The Jackets, Penguins and Capitals all have 10 games left in their respective seasons, and Columbus will have one more shot at each this year.

Elsewhere…

— The Bolts begin a back-to-back set tonight, and will start Peter Budaj against the Bruins. Tuukka Rask will likely be in for the B’s, after allowing three goals on just 22 shots in a loss to Ottawa on Tuesday.

Keith Kinkaid, who’s seen more playing time that usual down the stretch, will get another start when the Devils take on the Leafs in New Jersey. Curtis McElhinney goes for the Leafs, after Frederik Andersen beat Columbus last night.

— It’s Matt Murray versus Mike Condon as the Penguins take on the Sens.

Eddie Lack, who’s played very well since being verbally lambasted by head coach Bill Peters, looks to start when the ‘Canes take on the Habs in Montreal. Carey Price will be in goal for the Canadiens.

— After Reto Berra’s first start in over a year on Tuesday, the Panthers will go back to James Reimer against Arizona. The visiting Coyotes will start Mike Smith.

Ryan Miller goes up against his old Blues teammates as the Canucks visit St. Louis. Jake Allen, who continues to be one of the better comeback stories this season, looks for his seventh win in his last eight starts.

Chad Johnson gives Brian Elliott a night off as Calgary takes on Nashville. Looks as though the Preds are going back to Pekka Rinne, after he earned his third straight win over the Coyotes on Monday.

— It’s Steve Mason versus Devan Dubnyk as Philly travels to Minnesota.

Corey Crawford will look to bounce back after allowing four goals on 10 shots (and getting hooked) against Vancouver on Tuesday. The visiting Stars look like they’ll go with Kari Lehtonen.

— Some thought Cam Talbot, the NHL’s leader in starts, would get a rest tonight in Colorado after getting hooked against Anaheim last night. Nope. Talbot’s back in, going up against Jeremy Smith for the Avs.

— In the late game, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck gets back in goal after Michael Hutchinson scored a rare win on Tuesday. He’ll be in against Ben Bishop, who looks to keep the Kings’ faint playoff hopes alive.

Video: Leafs score twice in 15 seconds, chase Lightning’s Vasilevskiy

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Remember how just about everything went against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday? Well, if current trends hold up, Thursday could end up being the exact opposite.

If nothing else, the Maple Leafs are holding up their end of the bargain so far against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As great as Andrei Vasilevskiy has been for the Bolts since Ben Bishop was traded, the Maple Leafs got to him tonight, chasing him after scoring four goals on 15 shots. The video above shows the low point of the evening, as Matt Martin and Morgan Rielly scored goals just 15 seconds apart.

Connor Brown then scored a little less than four minutes later to make it 4-0, ending Vasilevskiy’s night early. James van Riemsdyk has since beaten Peter Budaj to give Toronto a commanding 5-0 lead.

If the stats weren’t bad enough, the night saw rare goals for Martin and Roman Polak.

Again, things could still swing, but so far so good for the Maple Leafs.