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This is Andrei Vasilevskiy's Time to Shine

Andrei Vasilevskiy has played some good hockey after a loss during these playoffs, especially in Game 2s. The Lightning will need that tonight as they hope to avoid an 0-2 deficit to kick things off.
Andrei Vasilevskiy

DENVER - Those eyes. Those damned eyes.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has that menacing stare that could strike fear in the hearts of trick-or-treaters everywhere. Nobody has the focus that Vasilevskiy has, and he visibly proves that every night. And for the past 11 playoff rounds, he has scared the living bejeebus out shooters around the league.

But he hasn't played a team quite like the Colorado Avalanche, who took a 1-0 series lead thanks to a 4-3 overtime win on Wednesday. Vasilevskiy and the Lightning are no strangers to bouncing back from losses in the playoffs, but the Avalanche have just two losses to their credit all playoff long. So for as good as the Bolts are, they can't afford to go down 0-2 before heading back home.

Vasilevskiy has specifically played well after Game 1 losses this year, losing the opening games against Toronto and New York. In three Game 2s this year, Vasilevskiy has stopped 91 of 98 shots for a .928 save percentage. After a loss, he's a .906, and that includes the second loss against the Rangers in the last round. At all strengths, those are decent numbers given the small sample size.

"His mental strength is out of this world," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "Whether it’s bouncing back from tough games or losses, we're very confident when we have him back there. The record’s not a fluke, but we can’t rely on that either."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper called Vasilevskiy Tampa's best player in Game 1, and believes in the guy he's backed over the past few years, regardless of the bumps along the way. Game 1 wasn't the typical Vasilevskiy dominance we've become accustomed too, and there's been a few rocky games along this journey, but Cooper knows he has one of the best in the game to rely upon every night.

"I'm a big believer in letting your goalie fight through a game," Cooper said Thursday. "I think there's got to be some trust, communication. Vasilevskiy and I have been together for about eight years now. I like to give him a chance to fight through it. Clearly, I'm not an early pull guy."

One of the most outstanding Vasilevskiy figures was just how good he was following the first round against Toronto. He allowed 22 goals over seven games against the Maple Leafs, only to allow 12 over the next 10 games against Florida and New York. Add in another four and he's up to just 16 goals allowed in his past 11 games. In that time frame at 5-on-5, Vasilevskiy has a .949 save percentage and an incredible 11.75 goals-saved-above average, good for first, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The theme of Friday's media availabilities by the Avalanche is getting volume on Vasilevskiy. They understand how valuable he is for Tampa, and their ability to keep the pressure on him early in Game 1 proved to be the difference-maker.

"We still have to focus on our game and what makes us better," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "If he's going to be better, we have to get more volume, more traffic to create the shots the way we want."

Vasilevskiy typically plays well with more shots against, too. In the nine games in which he has faced 34 or more shots, Vasilevskiy has a 6-2-0 record. When he has faced 28-33 shots, his record is just 3-2. Maybe that's the sweet spot? Either way, the Lightning have a good defensive system, but the Avalanche's speed and relentlessness got the better of them in Game 1. Don't expect that to happen again in Game 2.

The Bolts know important Vasilevskiy is to this team. Even with a team with Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and many other elite talents, Vasilevskiy is often one of the most -- if not, the most -- important figure on the roster at times. Stealing a win on the road would go a long way in building the momentum for the home stretch before returning to Denver for Game 5.

But for now, baby steps. Tampa needs Vasilevskiy to be the best player on the ice tonight, and they know how capable of that he is.



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