Louis Domingue

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Vasilevskiy back for Lightning after Domingue’s solid stretch of play

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Andrei Vasilevskiy will be back in goal Thursday night as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Toronto Maple Leafs. It will be the netminder’s first appearance since a fractured foot knocked him out of the lineup a month ago. 

That loss could have spelled danger, even for a strong team like the Lightning; and general manager Julien BriseBois could have gone out and plucked a goalie off waivers or made a trade for the short-term. Instead, they rode Louis Domingue (and Eddie Pasquale for one start) to a 12-3-0 record and enter this matchup between the NHL’s top two teams on a seven-game winning streak.

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It was Nov. 2017 when the Lightning acquired Domingue from the Arizona Coyotes as an insurance policy. When Vasilevskiy’s backup at the time, Peter Budaj, got hurt, Domingue stepped into the No. 2 role and ended up starting 11 games last season.

Having already been an NHL starter in Arizona and having worked previously with Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean, it seemed like a good fit. Domingue’s play in 2017-18 earned him a two-year, $2.3M extension and he’s proven to be worth every penny so far. Not bad for a guy whose career was in limbo just before he landed in Tampa.

In Domingue’s 14 starts since Vasilevskiy’s injury he’s posted a .919 even strength save percentage while facing the second-most shots at 5-on-5 (374) over that span. It hasn’t always been pretty — he’s allowed three or more goals eight times in that stretch — but when you’re on the NHL’s top-scoring team, they’ll bail you out on a bad night more often than not.

“When your starter goes down and you know this isn’t a couple of days thing, it’s a month thing, now you’re looking saying ‘Holy cow, I’m going to be starting a bunch of games in a row here,'” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “So mentally there’s a hurdle there to get over. He was probably sitting there saying I’ve got to make every single save. When you start putting a little too much pressure on yourself… he just needed to relax a little bit and understand we’ll get some goals, just make the saves when you can and if you can help bail us out sometimes, do it. That’s what he’s done of late and been really confident in net.”

Also, during most of his run, Domingue wore a neat mask during Hockey Fights Cancer month which featured drawings done by kids being treated at Children’s Cancer Center of Tampa Bay.

As Vasilevskiy returns, the Lightning now know they have a proven No. 2 behind him who can instill confidence in teammates when he gets the call. And with Vasilevskiy having started 64 games last season, Domingue’s presence will allow Cooper to rest his starter when needed — an issue that came up last season.

“It’s a team sport and the reason you’ve got guys in line waiting to play is in case injuries happen,” said Cooper. “You don’t want anybody get to hurt, ever, but you can lose your starting goaltender for a month or so. That’s 15 or 16 games. Somebody’s got to fill that void and step in and Louis has done an unreal job.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Goalie nods: Gibson goes for Ducks, whose playoff starter is still uncertain

John Gibson will get another chance to show he should be the Anaheim Ducks’ playoff starter when he goes up against Colorado tonight at Honda Center.

Gibson’s last start was a good one; the 21-year-old stopped all but one of the Devils’ 27 shots last Sunday in a 2-1 victory, after which he was named the game’s first star.

Still, neither Gibson nor Andersen has made it an easy decision for coach Bruce Boudreau. Both young goalies have had excellent performances, and both have had their hiccups.

“I think they both want the starting role,” Boudreau said recently, per NHL.com “We had a tough game in New York and Columbus [last month] and when [Andersen] played two really good games, it was like [Gibson] said, ‘Oh, yeah? OK,’ and he came in and played great. I think they both would like to have it.

“If we go far they’re both going to play, and if we don’t go far, they’re both going to play, because if we’re losing, we’re going to make switches. That’s the way I think of it right now. We’re not married to thinking one is better than the other. When they’re on top of their game, they’re as good as there is.”

Reto Berra will start for Colorado.

Elsewhere…

Scott Darling likely for Chicago versus Anders Lindback for Buffalo.

Dustin Tokarski for Montreal versus Keith Kinkaid for New Jersey.

Brian Elliott for St. Louis versus Kari Lehtonen (likely) for Dallas.

Louis Domingue for Arizona versus Antti Niemi for San Jose.

 

Goalie nods: Panthers return ‘our MVP’ Luongo for key tilt versus Wings

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Luongo back for Florida

Roberto Luongo will play for the first time since Mar. 3 when the Panthers host the Red Wings in Sunrise this evening.

Luongo, who’s missed the past six games with a shoulder injury, draws back in looking to keep Florida’s playoff hopes alive. The Panthers went an impressive 3-2-1 during his absence with journeyman Dan Ellis in goal, but know their chances of making the postseason are increased greatly with Bobby Loo in net.

“[Luongo] has been our MVP all year long,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said, per NHL.com. “He’s been a great player for us and a great leader and a great character. He’s going to come in tonight and try to do his best.

“He’ll work hard and compete hard and I’m sure the guys will be excited to see him.”

Florida heads into tonight’s action seven points back of Boston (the Bruins take on the Sens in Ottawa tonight), but still has three head-to-head matchups remaining against the B’s.

For Detroit, Petr Mrazek gets the call in net tonight.

Elsewhere…

Sharks at Leafs: Antti Niemi vs. Jonathan Bernier

Canes at Habs: Anton Khudobin vs. Carey Price

Bruins at Senators: Tuukka Rask (probable) vs. Andrew Hammond

Blues at Jets: Brian Elliott vs. Ondrej Pavelec

Caps at Wild: Braden Holtby vs. Devan Dubnyk

Pens at Stars: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Kari Lehtonen (probable)

Flyers at Flames: Steve Mason vs. Karri Ramo

Jackets at Canucks: (No Columbus starter yet) vs. Eddie Lack

Avs at Coyotes: Semyon Varlamov vs. Louis Domingue

Goalie nods: Neuvirth starts second straight for Isles

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All the latest from the blue paint…

Don’t call it a controversy

The Islanders will start Michal Neuvirth for the second straight game tonight against the Leafs — but it isn’t a sign of potential goalie drama.

Tonight is the first of the Isles’ back-to-back set, which culminates tomorrow with a crucial tilt against the Rangers. Jaroslav Halak will face the Blueshirts, a team he’s fared well against this season, going 3-1-0 with a 2.51 GAA and .935 save percentage. Tomorrow’s game also represents the fifth and final meeting of the season between the two New York-based clubs, and a chance for the Isles (and Halak) to beat the Rangers in four of the five meetings.

As for Neuvirth, tonight’s game gives him a chance to make up for his debut — a shootout loss to the Panthers on Saturday, in which he allowed three goals on just 18 shots.

For Toronto, Jonathan Bernier will be in goal.

Elsewhere…

Oilers at Red Wings: Ben Scrivens vs. (no Detroit starter yet)

Ducks at Canucks: (no Anaheim starter yet) vs. Eddie Lack

Preds at Coyotes: (no Nashville starter yet) vs. Louis Domingue

Pens at Sharks: (no Pittsburgh starter yet) vs. Antti Niemi