Goalie nods: Bolts start Budaj, even though Vasilevskiy’s on fire

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An interesting decision from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper — even though Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s been a huge part of his club’s recent surge back into playoff contention, it’ll be Peter Budaj who starts in tonight’s crucial tilt against the Rangers.

“We’ve had a lot of success with Vasy,” Cooper said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “And playing him every third day, he’s played really well. When he went through this stretch of playing back-to-backs in December, I just don’t know if it was too much, too soon either we weren’t good in front of him or he wasn’t at the top of his game.

“Our No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs, but still our goaltender is young and developing. We’ve got him in a really good grove here, there’s no sense in breaking that groove. There’s a lot of games he still has to play.”

Vasilevskiy is 5-0-1 over his last six starts and has posted a .951 save percentage over his last five appearances, so going to Buadj tonight is a pretty significant move.

The veteran only has one start since coming over from L.A. in the Ben Bishop trade, and there’s so much on the line — with a win and and Isles regulation loss (to the ‘Canes), Tampa Bay would draw even with New York on points, and move one back of idle Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

No word yet on a Rangers starter for tonight, though it’s expected Antti Raanta will get the call.

Elsewhere…

— Clinging to their slim playoff chances, the Flyers will go back to Steve Mason when they host the Jackets. Mason allowed two goals on 27 shots in a loss to Boston over the weekend, and has played well lately. No word yet on a Columbus starter.

Jean-Francois Berube gives Thomas Greiss the night off as the Isles host the ‘Canes. Cam Ward is in for Carolina.

— With no other options really available, Connor Hellebuyck will start again for the Jets, despite his recent struggles. It looks as though the host Preds will counter with Pekka Rinne.

— Coming off a 31-save shutout of Winnipeg over the weekend, the red-hot Brian Elliott starts again for the Flames. Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s also played well of late, goes for Pittsburgh.

Ryan Miller was brilliant against Pittsburgh on Saturday, stopping 45 of 47 shots, and will go right back in when the Canucks host the Bruins. No word yet on a Boston starter.

— In a huge game for Western Conference wild card jockeying, the Kings and Blues will roll with their No. 1s: Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles, Jake Allen for St. Louis.

Mike Smith‘s in goal when the Coyotes host the Avs. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

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