Andrei Vasilevskiy has cemented himself as arguably the greatest playoff goaltender in NHL history with more time to add to his resume. Over the past two seasons Vasy has demonstrated dominate play in net along with placing himself in the history books. While it did not start that way, he quickly elevated his game and is a key factor in Tampa’s back-to-back cup runs. With no signs of slowing down Vasilevskiy continues to amaze fans and blow the minds of viewers and experts alike.
To start off, Andrei Vasilevskiy began his playoff career in 2015 when he replaced an injured Ben Bishop in Game 2 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. Later, Vasy would be credited with the win and became the first goalie to win a Stanley Cup Finals game in relief since Lester Patrick in the 1928 Finals. However, the Lightning went back to Bishop in Game 3 only to rest him in favor of Vasy in Game 4. It was a tall task to ask a rookie to start in a Finals game, but Vasilevskiy was up to the task. He would end up losing the game but only surrendered 2 goals in the loss. Bishop went on to play for the remainder of the series, but it gave Vasy a taste of what playoff hockey is all about.
Filling in yet again
The following year Ben Bishop remained as the starting goaltender for the playoffs. Unfortunately, Tampa would once again lose Bishop to injury except this time he was done for the remainder of the playoffs. Andrei Vasilevskiy then took over as the starter for the Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh. Vasy ended the playoffs with a 3-4 record as the Lightning fell to the Penguins in 7 games. He ended that playoff run with a respectable .925 SV% and a GAA of 2.76. Next, Lightning failed to qualify for the playoffs in the 2016/2017 season but would return in the 17/18 season.
Becoming the starter
The 2017/18 season would be Vasy’s first full season as the starter of the Tampa Bay Lightning. This time, the team once again qualified for the playoffs and made another deep run. Once again, the team fell in the Conference Finals this time to the Washington Capitals. For Vasilevskiy, he ended the playoffs with a 11-6 record and saw a worse SV% than the previous run with .918. On the other hand, he improved his GAA with a lower 2.58 compared to 2.76 in 15/16. Ultimately, the next season would be one to forget as the Lightning had a short playoff run. Tampa was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a result, the Lightning looked to come back better than ever in an unusual season.
Revenge is served
With four playoff runs under his belt Vasilevskiy became more comfortable with playoff hockey and began his playoff dominance starting with the 2020 Cup run. In the first round the team had a rematch with the Blue Jackets. Vengeance was served as the Bolts went on to win the series in 5 games. Vasilevskiy had a tremendous .930 SV% and a low GAA of 1.84. Following, the Lightning faced the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs.
Stanley Cup in sight
Once again, Tampa won the series in 5 games with Vasy improving his stats. In this series he finished with a .936 SV% and a GAA of 1.79. A date with the Islanders followed and Vasy continued to be a force in net. Lightning went on to win in six games with Vasilevskiy finishing the series with a stellar 1.63 GAA and .933 SV%. Finally, the Dallas Stars awaited the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals. For Vasilevskiy it was a chance at redemption after the 2015 loss to the Blackhawks.
Winning the first Cup
In terms of stats, it was his worst of the playoffs, but the final game of the series summarized a tremendous playoff for the young net-minder. In Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals Andrei Vasilevskiy posted a 22 save shutout to help the Bolts win their first Cup since 2005. The shutout was the first of the playoffs for Vasy and started in every playoff game for the Lightning. To sum up, Vasilevskiy finished the playoffs with a 18-7 record, .927 SV% and a 1.90 GAA.
Road to another Finals
Seemed like Vasilevskiy was nearly unbeatable in the playoffs and he would only get better as the Lightning went on to become back-to-back champions. His playoff performance can go down as the greatest by a goaltender in NHL history. Every series clinching game ended in a shutout for the Lightning which awarded Vasy with the Conn Smythe trophy. Lightning took down the Panthers in six games in round 1 with a 4-0 victory in Game 6. Then, Hurricanes fell to the Lightning in five games with the Lightning winning Game 5 with a score of 2-0. Following, Tampa and the New York Islanders played a thrilling 7 game series with the Lightning winning game 7 1-0.
Andrei the legend is born
At this point Vasilevskiy posted his third straight series-clinching shutout and the Finals would be no different. Lightning made quick work of the Canadiens by winning the series in 5 games. Game 5 ended with a 1-0 shutout and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup for the second straight season. Andrei Vasilevskiy was rightfully named MVP with a .937 SV% and a 1.90 GAA. Miraculously, the Lightning never needed overtime to win a game and with unbeatable goaltending it was clear to see why. I have never seen a goalie play that well in a playoff run and it will be hard to even replicate such a performance.
One for the history books
Fast forward to the current playoff run and Vasilevskiy shows no signs of slowing down. Lightning defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in Game 7 to setup yet another showdown with their inner state rivals, the Florida Panthers. Shockingly, Tampa went on to sweep the Panthers with you guessed it Vasy posting a shutout in the clinching game. It should be noted that in his last 7 series-clinching games Andrei Vasilevskiy has allowed 1 goal on 200 shots faced.
Bright future awaits
All in all, while it did not start pretty for Vasilevskiy he later showed why he will go down as arguably the greatest playoff goaltender the league has seen. He has a 17-0 record following a playoff loss since 2020, (5 shutouts) and is the first goalie since Ken Dryden to play in all games during a back-to-back run. In addition, Vasilevskiy is 27 years old and has plenty of years left to add to his remarkable NHL career.
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) May 31, 2022
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