TAMPA — Andrei Vasilevskiy had to be prodded by the Lightning’s PR staff to come out and speak to the media. The 20-year-old Russian didn’t want any cameras around. He often consulted a translator during a brief scrum with reporters. He was nervous, but also happy.
Nervous because of the throng of reporters pushing microphones in his face. Happy because he’d just come off the bench — twice, actually — in the third period of a tied Stanley Cup Final game, and he ended up getting the win.
“Just feel to myself happy,” he said. “Every game, I’m just ready. If coach tell me, ‘Go in,’ I go in. That’s it.”
Vasilevskiy only had to stop five shots in replacing Ben Bishop, who twice left the game for reasons the Lightning weren’t sharing. But it was an incredibly big moment for a rookie goalie with next to no playoff experience. If the Lightning had lost and gone back to Chicago trailing 2-0, the Lightning would be in serious, serious trouble.
“Nervous?” he said. “Just maybe little bit. But after first couple shots, I [felt] better.”
And the second time he had to replace Bishop?
“First time maybe more nerves, but second time just play,” he said.
Captain Steven Stamkos was asked what came to mind when he saw Vasilevskiy come in.
“You know what? Usually in a situation like that, you tighten up,” he said. ” Obviously, you feel for him getting thrown in there like that. But we have confidence in that kid.”
“I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders,” echoed coach Jon Cooper. “When Bish had to leave, there wasn’t an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself. The kid proved it when he went in. He was great.”
The question now is whether the “kid” will be forced to start Game 3 Monday in Chicago.
“I will not answer a question about the goaltending or what happened tonight,” Cooper said, to nobody’s surprise.
Vasilevskiy only started 13 games during the regular season. His last start came way back on March 31. Prior to tonight, he’d only made a pair of relief appearances in the playoffs.
“He’s a pretty confident kid,” said Stamkos. “I think it helped that he’s come in relief a couple of times this playoffs. He’s got a taste of it. This will just add to his confidence. He made some big saves.
“I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on, but he played great tonight and it was nice to finish off the game for him.”