TAMPA — Andrei Vasilevskiy called it a personal challenge to go head-to-head against Carey Price in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Tampa Bay Lightning goalie has not only accepted it, he’s winning it by doing to the Montreal Canadiens what Price, their goalie, had done to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights to get here.
He’s taking hope away from the Canadiens with each save and win.
“We’re used to seeing this from him,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Vasilevskiy made 42 saves in a 3-1 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on Wednesday to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
He has allowed two goals on 62 shots through two games. Price has allowed eight on 50 shots.
“I just try to go out there and play my best game,” Vasilevskiy said. “Now we’re up two games. It doesn’t matter. Up two games, down two games, it’s the same routine, same compete level, same way for me every game. I just don’t think about anything now. I just want to go out there and play my best game.”
Game 2 was arguably his best of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 42 saves were a playoff high for Vasilevskiy this season and the second-most he’s made in a playoff game that ended in regulation. He made 44 on May 18, 2016, a 4-2 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final. It was the third-most saves he’s made in a playoff win behind two performances last season; 61 in the five-overtime Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and 45 in the double-overtime Game 5 of the second round against the Boston Bruins.
“Just the absolute competitive gamer that we know he is,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said when asked to describe Vasilevskiy’s night. “Night in and night out the backbone of this team. Can’t say enough good things about him. We certainly want to make it a little bit easier of a night than we had to for him, but man he’s an absolute warrior and competitor and obviously was probably the biggest piece of our win here tonight.”
Vasilevskiy stopped all 13 shots he faced in a first period that ended 0-0. His best play may have been a pokecheck on Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki early in the period, stopping him on a breakaway before he had a chance to shoot.
The Lightning were out of sorts in the second period, but Vasilevskiy wasn’t.
He made 15 saves on 16 shots, getting burned only by Suzuki’s 40-foot floating backhand that hit off McDonagh and Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli before going into the net.
The goal he gave up in Game 1 also came on a double deflection.
“We weren’t at the level that we needed to be,” McDonagh said. “Thankfully, there was one guy who had his level where it was needed to be, and this guy over here [Vasilevskiy] was giving us a chance.”
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The Lightning escaped the period up 2-1 because of forward Blake Coleman‘s diving buzzer-beating goal off a pass from Barclay Goodrow at 19:58.
Goodrow also recognized Vasilevskiy’s role in Coleman’s goal becoming the game-changer it was.
“If it wasn’t for ‘Vasy’ keeping us in the game through the second period the score could have been a lot different,” Goodrow said.
The Lightning were better in the third period, but Vasilevskiy still faced 14 more shots, making 14 more saves to close out his 47th playoff win.
“If you’re going to have any success in the League, especially this time of year, you need your goaltender to be good for you,” Cooper said. “Hopefully you can leave a game sitting here and say the goaltender contributed to the win but it was a great team win. Tonight, there were peaks and valleys in our game, but Vasy stood tall when we were down.
“He was on tonight, no question.”