Even when the Tampa Bay Lightning do not bring their “A” game you are still not going to have an easy day against them, mainly because they have Andrei Vasilevskiy in their net and your team does not.
That was the difference on Sunday evening when the Lightning were able to take Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-1, to take a 1-0 lead in their Second Round series.
From the very beginning Tampa Bay was clearly not at its best. The Hurricanes had the better start, ended up with a decisive shots on goal advantage, and for the most part had the better chances all day. But other than a Jake Bean slap shot on the power play early in the third period, they were unable to solve the dominant Vasilevskiy no matter what they threw at him as he stopped 37 out of 38 shots in the win.
[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
For all of the talk of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, or any of their star skaters, Vasilevskiy is the player that really separates Tampa Bay from everybody else in the league because of games like this. No matter what is happening around him, no matter how the team in front of him is playing, he just calmly and cooly stops shots and gives his team a chance. It is almost unfair to think that one of the best teams in the league also happens to have the league’s best goalie.
Since becoming the Lightning’s starting goalie at the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Vasilevskiy has appeared in 314 games, including playoffs, and owns a .920 save percentage with three (and almost certainly soon to be four) top-three finishes in the Vezina Trophy voting. He seems to be the favorite to win it for the second time in his career this season.
He is, quite simply, a game-changer. Not only because he stops a lot of shots he probably should not have to stop, but also because he rarely gives up on goals on the shots he should stop.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]
That, too, was a major difference on Sunday at the other end of the ice.
While Vasilevskiy was his usual rock solid self in Tampa Bay’s net, Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic had an otherwise strong game ruined when he gave up a brutal goal midway through the third period on an innocent looking shot from Tampa Bay’s Barclay Goodrow for the eventual game-winner.
That is simply the type of goal you can not allow in that situation against a team like Tampa Bay, because they are not going to give you any goals like it on their end.
There is a fine line between winning and losing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and sometimes it just simply comes down to when you get the saves and when you do not. More often than not, Tampa Bay is going to get those saves with Vasilevskiy in net.
LIGHTNING VS. HURRICANES – series livestream link
Game 1: Sun. May 30: Lightning 2, Hurricanes 1
Game 2: Tues. June 1: Lightning at Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3: Thurs. June 3: Hurricanes at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Game 4: Sat. June 5: Hurricanes at Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (USA Network)
*Game 5: Tues. June 8: Lightning at Hurricanes TBD
*Game 6: Thurs. June 10: Hurricanes at Lightning TBD
*Game 7: Sat. June 12: Lightning at Hurricanes TBD
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.