Andrei Vasilevskiy has been even better for Lightning this postseason

When an average team has a great goalie it immediately becomes capable of greatness. Goaltending is that important and that much of a season-changer. Especially in the playoffs.

When you put a great goalie behind an already great team, that team can become nearly unbeatable.

That is what we are seeing right now with the Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning enter Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC / Peacock; livestream) with a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens and are just one win away from becoming just the fourth repeat champion over the past 30 years, joining a list that includes only a pair of Pittsburgh Penguins teams and the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. You can look at the superstar forwards, or Victor Hedman on defense, or the insane level of depth they have acquired as key reasons why and you would be right every step of the way.

But right now, for this team, it is Vasilevskiy that is driving the championship run more than any other individual player.

[NHL ON NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He has already been the NHL’s best goalie for several years and a game-changing force in the Tampa Bay crease. He is a regular Vezina Trophy finalist. But he might be playing the best hockey of his career right now in this postseason.

Even though the Lightning are on the verge of repeating as Cup champions, and have players posting huge offensive numbers, and have yet to lose consecutive games this postseason, they have still not been quite as dominant as they were during their Cup run a year ago. They have spent more time defending, they have allowed more shots, more chances, and been challenged a little bit more at various times, especially against Florida in the First Round and the New York Islanders in the semifinals. They have had to lean on Vasilevskiiy to bail them out a little more often than we have seen in the past. He has been more than up to the challenge.

Let’s look at some numbers just to get an idea of the impact he is making.

The table below looks at the past two years of defensive performance for the Lightning in terms of shot attempts against (CA/60), shots on goal against (SA/60), scoring chances (SC/60), high-danger chances (HDSCA/60), and expected goals against (xGA/60). Along with that, we also included Vasilevskiy’s save percentages against those scoring chances and high-danger chances.

[NHL Power Rankings: Conn Smythe Watch Entering Game 4]

There is not only a noticeable jump in the shots and chances against, but look at how much higher Vasilevskiy’s save percentages are against those chances. He has not only been better, he leads all goalies in both categories.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

It is a completely dominant goaltending performance, and it should make him the Conn Smythe Trophy front-runner at this point. Because without him playing at this level they may not be in this position to win another Stanley Cup.

It is also not just about the overall performance. It is also about how he has played in the biggest situations, recording a shutout in literally every series clinching win this postseason. Add in his 2-0 shutout win in the Cup Final clincher last season and he has recorded a shutout in an NHL record four consecutive series clinching wins. That is a legendary type of performance on the biggest stage the sport has.

Given how talented the roster is and the offensive numbers their superstar forwards record it is easy to overlook the importance of the goalie on a team like this. But over the past two years Tampa Bay has a losing record (13-14-5) when Vasilevskiy does not play, while he has played literally every minute of playoff hockey during that stretch. Never given a night off. Never been pulled due to performance or the team needing a spark. He has simply played every game at an absurdly high level, and doing so this year behind a team that has not been quite as dominant as we have seen.

It is certainly a Conn Smythe level performance if the Lightning win this series.

2021 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final – (TB leads 3-0)

Game 1: Lightning 5, Canadiens 1
Game 2: Lightning 3, Canadiens 1
Game 3: Lightning 6, Canadiens 3
Game 4: Mon. July 5: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock) – livestream
*Game 5: Wed. July 7: Canadiens at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 6: Fri. July 9: Lightning at Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)
*Game 7: Sun. July 11: Canadiens at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (NBC / Peacock)

*if necessary

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    Predators-Avalanche postponed due to water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Friday’s game between the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche has been postponed because of a water main break that has soaked the downtown arena.

    The NHL said the water main break has “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store.

    The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    A makeup date for the  game will be announced later.

    Also, a decision on whether to postpone the Predators’ home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be made later.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue in Nashville for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

    Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

    Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

    Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

    Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.

    Carrier, Pietrangelo rally Golden Knights past Canucks 5-4

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Pietrangelo scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period and had two assists as the Vegas Golden Knights rallied past the Vancouver Canucks 5-4 on Monday night.

    William Carrier scored twice and Mark Stone had a goal and an assist for the Golden Knights (15-4-1), who overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third. Reilly Smith also scored, while Jack Eichel and Alec Martinez each had two assists.

    Logan Thompson made 25 saves for Vegas, which had a go-ahead goal wiped out in the third but still kept pushing.

    “I don’t think that’s really how we drew it up,” Pietrangelo said. “A lot of emotions. Obviously we score and then it gets taken back. But I’ll tell you what, it’s not easy to win on the road and you’ve got to give credit to our group – we were resilient no matter what happened.”

    Vancouver (6-10-3) got a goal and an assist from Andrei Kuzmenko. Bo Horvat, Luke Schenn and Elias Pettersson also scored, and Quinn Hughes had two assists.

    Thatcher Demko stopped 33 shots for the Canucks, who gave up a multi-goal lead in a loss for the seventh time this season.

    “Inexcusable,” defenseman Luke Schenn said.

    “That’s nothing to do with systems or what the coaches are telling us. That comes down to battle and compete and, we’re getting outmuscled and outbattled in front of the net and in the blue paint,” he added. “Everyone just needs to be better in front of (Demko) there and that’s where games are won and lost.”

    Vegas appeared to take the lead midway through the third period, but the goal was disallowed because of a bizarre bounce.

    A clearing attempt by the Canucks hit the lens of a camera sticking through one of the media holes in the glass, knocking a piece of it onto the ice. Play continued at that end and Stone put the puck in the net. But after a video review, the goal was overturned and an official said the whistle should have been blown to stop play.

    About four minutes later, Pietrangelo did give the Golden Knights a 5-4 advantage when he collected a puck from Stone and sent a backhand past Demko from the low slot at 14:14.

    Vancouver scored three straight goals early in the third to go up 4-2 before Vegas roared back.

    “We let them score one, kind of changed the momentum quick and then they scored another one. So I don’t know,” Pettersson said. “We just can’t let that happen. It’s been happening way too many times this season.”

    Carrier made it 4-3 with his second of the night at 6:54, sending in a rebound from the top of the crease for his sixth of the season.

    “Once they scored one it was like, `Uh oh, here we go again.’ And we’re back on our heels and they came at us, and then they got three,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    Smith shoveled a puck into the Vancouver net at 8:57 to tie it.

    “We just win some pucks below their goal line and get it to the front of the net and force them to defend an area they haven’t done as good a job as they’d probably like this year there,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We didn’t do a very good job to start a third there, and then it snowballs a little bit. You have a little life and you get a couple more pucks to the net and a second chance.”

    ON A ROLL

    Horvat drew the Canucks even 1:47 into the third with a wrist shot from the hash marks. Vancouver’s captain has 15 goals, second-most in the NHL behind Connor McDavid (16). … Brock Boeser‘s assist on the first goal of the game extended his point streak to seven games (two goals, six assists).

    MARKING MILESTONES

    Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault played his 500th regular-season NHL game. Now in his 10th season, the 31-year-old center suited up for Columbus, Tampa Bay and Florida before Vegas selected him in the 2017 expansion draft. … Vancouver defenseman Ethan Bear made his 200th regular-season appearance.

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday in the opener of a three-game homestand.

    Canucks: Begin a three-game trip Wednesday at Colorado.