The Tampa Bay Lightning’s new third jerseys weren’t the only eye-popping thing on the ice against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
Andrei Vasilevskiy took care of that, as he needed to use his mask/head to make a save on a sprawling sequence. If you needed video evidence that Brayden Schenn hasn’t been getting many bounces so far in 2018-19, you could do worse than to witness that save.
(Watch it in the video above this post’s headline.)
Entertaining stuff, although I’d wager the Lightning would prefer that fewer pucks hit their franchise goalie in the head.
On paper, Thursday seemed like a rough draw for Vasilevskiy.
A foot injury sidelined him since Nov. 10, so you’d expect some rust. This was also a much-hyped game against a high-powered opponent in the Maple Leafs, and Toronto didn’t ease Vasi in, firing 49 shots on goal.
Only one of those attempts beat Vasilevskiy, however, as he returned to action to make 48 saves, a new career-high. The Lightning have now won eight in a row, and while seven came without Vasilevskiy, he absolutely earned this one.
Niederreiter ranked among three players who scored three points on Thursday, with Wild teammate Ryan Suter (three assists) also included.
The winger enjoyed the best all-around statistical night of the three, scoring two goals and one assist, generating a +4 rating, getting the game-winner, and firing four SOG.
Minnesota just seems to find ways to win under Bruce Boudreau, and maybe a hot streak from Niederreiter will power the latest surge. This strong night extended his goal streak to three games (four goals), giving him five points during that span. As is often the case with the underrated forward, Niederreiter stood out from a possession standpoint, too.
Rounding out that trio of three-point nights, Scheifele scored one goal and two assists as the Jets narrowly edged the Oilers in overtime.
Scheifele logged quite a bit of ice time (23:55), enjoying a +2 rating and generating two SOG. He’s even hotter than Niederreiter lately, as Scheifele is now on a three-game multi-point streak, giving him two goals and six assists for a batty eight points in the past three contests.
While Niederreiter’s been up-and-down this season, Scheifele remains an elite point producer. He now has 40 points in just 31 games. tying Scheifele with his wingman Blake Wheeler for eighth in NHL scoring.
Highlights of the Night
This Vasilevskiy save is great enough to be worth another look (it originally appeared in this post):
The Tampa Bay Lightning remained one of the best teams in the NHL even with Andrei Vasilevskiy missing 15 games, taking a seven-game winning streak into Thursday’s best-versus-best clash against Toronto. All due respect to Louis Domingue, but the Lightning wouldn’t have won their eighth game in a row without a vastly impressive Vasilevskiy.
Honestly, you could make a sane argument that no other goalie in the world could author such a masterpiece, but that’s a debate for your local, hockey-friendly bar.
Speaking of debates, NHL fans were treated to what could potentially be an epic, too-good-for-the-second-round series, with the Lightning beating the Maple Leafs 4-1.
Prediction: a lot of people will look at that 4-1 score and believe that the Lightning absolutely dominated the Maple Leafs. That wasn’t the case, at all, as Vasilevskiy showed the opposite of rustiness in stopping 48 shots.
Vasilevskiy set a new Lightning franchise record for saves in a home game, and tied the overall mark. To review: Vasilevskiy set a new career-high for saves against one of the most explosive offenses in the NHL, and he did it in his first game back since Nov. 10. Tremendous.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has tied a franchise record for saves in a game with 48, still 1:15 left
Many of those saves were jaw-droppers, rather than run-of-the-mill, with this making a late push for Save of the Year contention:
You can’t really put the Leafs’ lone goal on Vasilevskiy, either, as Kasperi Kapanen stole an ill-advised pass, getting a ton of time and room to score:
After an evenly-matched, exciting 1-1 first period, the Lightning pulled away by scoring three times during the middle frame. All of those tallies were painful for Toronto. Tampa Bay made it 2-1 when Nikita Kucherov scored a barely-goal that Frederik Andersenseemingly gloved, and then the game really got away from the Maple Leafs when the Lightning scored two more times in the final minute of the second period.
Overall, the Maple Leafs generated a gaudy 49-21 shots on goal advantage. While you could accuse the Bolts of sitting on their lead late (they were outshot 16-2 in the third, and endured at least a 13-minute SOG drought), Toronto generated an edge during each period. It didn’t matter, because Vasilevskiy was a human highlight reel in net.
It’s foolish to read too much into a single night during an 82-game season, but perhaps a night like this might give the Maple Leafs that extra push to add that missing piece or two? If nothing else, the Lightning only strengthened their stranglehold on the Atlantic Division crown, not to mention the top spot in the East, and the Presidents’ Trophy.
Sure, the score was lopsided, yet this game made a best-of-seven series that much more tantalizing to imagine, even if getting there would be easier said than done. You know, kind of like getting pucks past Vasi.