At a certain point, all you can do is laugh and wonder what in the world it takes to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Wednesday night in Washington, the Capitals and the Lightning met for the second time in four days, and looking to exact revenge for last Saturday’s loss, Alex Ovechkin and Co. did about everything that could have been asked of them. Washington scored the game’s opening goal, clawed back from a two-goal deficit in the second frame and notched a last-minute tally to send the contest to overtime, the equalizer coming off the stick of Evgeny Kuznetsov with the Capitals’ net empty. However, when all was said and done, Washington skated away with just a single point from the affair, with Tampa Bay picking up the 5-4 overtime victory after defenseman Victor Hedman patiently maneuvered his way to the front of the Capitals net and slipped a backhander past Washington’s Braden Holtby.
The real kick in the teeth, though? The loss came after the Capitals threw 58 – fifty-eight! – shots on goal. To put Andrei Vasilevskiy’s performance into perspective, consider that he allowed four goals against and still finished the with a .931 save percentage on the night. Somehow, he was able to celebrate with his teammates instead of collapsing into a heap after Hedman’s winner.
Vasilevskiy’s performance was arguably his best of the season, and it was undoubtedly his busiest. Though the netminder has faced more than 40 shots against on four other occasions this season, including a 48-save, one-goal-against performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs in mid-December, Wednesday marked the first time all season upwards of 50 pucks have headed his way. It also made him one of the busiest winning goalies in the past 31 seasons.
According to Hockey-Reference, there are 17 instances of a goaltender making at least 54 saves in a victory since the beginning of the 1987-88 season. With his performance, Vasilevskiy became one of seven goaltenders with a 54-save victory to their name in the past three decades, joining a group that includes everyone from current starters – Frederik Andersen and Semyon Varlamov – to some masked men who have been somewhat forgotten, such as Antero Niittymaki and Dan Ellis. Vasilevskiy’s 54-save victory doesn’t crack the 10-best single-game save totals for a winning netminder, though. It falls one stop short. Here are the 10 netminders who’ve been busier in victories over the past 30-plus years:
Felix Potvin, New York Islanders – April 12, 1999
55 saves / NYI (4) – NJ (2)
Hall of Fame netminder Martin Brodeur was used to out-duelling opposing goaltenders, not the other way around, but in a late-season meeting between the Islanders and New Jersey Devils during the 1998-99 campaign, ‘The Cat’ got the better of Brodeur. In a game that the Devils absolutely, positively dominated, outshooting the Islanders by a 34-shot margin, Potvin stood on his head to guide an awful New York club to a victory over New Jersey. Only twice was Potvin beaten, and only one of those goals came when the two sides were playing at even strength.
Alexander Georgiev, New York Rangers – Feb. 10, 2019
55 saves / NYR (4) – TOR (1)
This one is fresh in the minds of Maple Leafs’ fans. Boasting one of the league’s best attacks and playing against the Rangers’ second-stringer, the contest had all the makings of a cakewalk. Turns out Georgiev had a different idea, though. After New York got out to an early lead, Toronto equalized the contest midway through the first period before Jimmy Vesey put the Rangers ahead 2-1 with six minutes left in the first. The Rangers held the one-goal lead through the first thanks to Georgiev’s 21 saves in the frame, and they would pick up the victory after the 23-year-old – on his birthday, no less – stopped all 34 shots he faced across the final 40 minutes.
Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago Blackhawks – April 5, 2007
56 saves / CHI (3) – DET (2)
The ‘Bulin Wall’ had to be just that on many nights back when the pre-Stanley Cup dark days were still looming large in Chicago. On no night was he better, either, than his 56-save jaw-dropper against the rival Detroit Red Wings, who nearly tripled the Blackhawks’ 21-shot total on the evening. Chicago was able to hop out to an early lead thanks to tallies from Nikita Alexeev and Bryan Bickell before Detroit stormed back with markers from Tomas Holmstrom and Robert Lang. Regulation solved nothing and ditto for overtime, but the shootout produced a winner as Khabibulin stopped three shooters before Patrick Sharp found the winner in the fourth round.
Bill Ranford, Edmonton Oilers – March 17, 1993
56 saves / EDM (4) – NYR (3)
Ranford’s victory was one that had to be snatched from the jaws of defeat. Entering the third period, the Oilers leaky defense had resulted in Ranford being beaten three times and trailing 3-1 in the outing. Just 46 seconds into the third period, though, Shayne Corson pulled Edmonton within one before Petr Klima rifled home the tying goal. From there, Ranford locked the game down. He wouldn’t be beaten across the final six minutes of regulation and it was only 32 seconds into the extra frame that Craig MacTavish potted the overtime winner.
Jeff Hackett, San Jose Sharks – Dec. 26, 1992
57 saves / SJ (7) – LA (2)
Here’s the thing about this game: Hackett had to stand on his head, yes, but it’s not as if his counterpart had it easy. The Sharks keeper turned aside 57 of the 59 shots that were directed on goal, but Los Angeles Kings netminder Robb Stauber was also peppered with 40 shots on the evening. His outing wasn’t anywhere near as impressive as Hackett’s, however, as Stauber was beaten seven times.
Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes – Oct. 25, 2008
57 saves / CAR (4) – NYI (3)
Nine years before Ward was on the other side of one of these unbelievable performances, it was the Hurricanes netminder who was single-handedly guiding his team to victory. An odd statistic about this one: Ward had more than four-times the saves of either goaltender he faced on the night. Joey MacDonald, who got the start for the Islanders, made 14 saves, and Rick DiPietro stopped 10 of the 12 shots he faced. Ward’s 60 shots against are tied for the third-most of any netminder on this list.
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche – Nov. 02, 2017
57 saves / COL (5) – CAR (3)
The Hurricanes had no business losing this game, particularly not when they fired 60 shots on goal including 22 in the first and third frames. But the difference was goaltending, as in Colorado got some and Carolina did not. Tested nine times in the first period, Cam Ward cracked twice, and then he allowed three goals on 11 shots in the second period to bury the Hurricanes’ hopes in this one. Meanwhile, Varlamov played like his former Hart and Vezina Trophy-contending self, frustrating Carolina’s shooters and picking up the victory.
Tom Barrasso, Pittsburgh Penguins – March 12, 1989
57 saves / PIT (6) – CHI (5)
This game had everything. The Penguins and Blackhawks combined for 11 goals, 58 penalty minutes, two fights and a partridge in a pear tree. Also notable about the contest is that Barrasso – who stopped a whopping 57 shots, allowing five goals and still posting a .919 SP – was tested 62 times on the night. That’s tied for the fourth-most of any keeper since 1987-88. The only reason this game wasn’t a blowout? Mario Lemieux. He scored each of the Penguins’ first three goals, had the secondary assist on the fourth and then the primary helper on the fifth and sixth markers.
Dwayne Roloson, New York Islanders – Nov. 23, 2009
58 saves / NYI (4) – TOR (3)
This one was all about pushback by the Maple Leafs. Through the first 15 minutes of the outing, the Islanders had jumped out to a 3-0 lead and chased starter Vesa Toskala from the outing. But once Toronto switched netminders, throwing Jonas Gustavsson between the pipes, the script flipped. Over the next 45-odd minutes, Gustavsson was tested just six times while Roloson saw 41 shots across the remainder of regulation and overtime. All it took, though, was one shot: Josh Bailey, 4:17 into overtime, delivered the winner for New York. Roloson’s performance is the second-best on this list, though it could be argued his was more crucial than any other given how tilted the ice was.
Ben Scrivens, Edmonton Oilers – Jan. 29, 2014
59 saves / EDM (3) – SJ (0)
An absolutely, positively show-stealing performance. Scrivens didn’t just blank the Sharks and steal a victory for the Oilers, the then-27-year-old netminder set an NHL record for the most saves in a regular season shutout. No other keeper in league history has made 59 saves across regulation and posted a clean sheet. And no goaltender has been tested as rapid-fire in a shutout. Scrivens made nearly a save a minute to post his shutout, far more than Patrick Roy had to make (.61 per minute) in his 104-minute, 63-save post-season shutout in 1996 and more still than Dominik Hasek (.56 per minute) in his 70-save, 125-minute playoff shutout in 1994.