The 2023 all-star game is fast approaching. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be sending two of their best to the big event. The National Hockey League named Nikita Kucherov as the first Bolts representative. Then, fans across the hockey world got to vote on three additional players from each division. It probably surprised no one when the fans voted in the Lightning’s generational goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, as the extra netminder for the Atlantic division. At just 28 years young, Vasilevskiy has already established himself as one of the greatest goalies of this generation and, possibly, of all time.
The Goaltender of the Future
In February of 2017, the Lightning made a move that shocked many. They traded their star (yet injury-plagued) goaltender, Ben Bishop, to the Los Angeles Kings. Although the Bolts received netminder Peter Budaj in the trade, it was clear that Budaj would not be the heir to the Lightning net. The organization had made the decision that then 22-year-old Vasilevskiy was ready for that role. Reaction among the Lightning faithful was mixed. Bishop had been very popular and had broken virtually every goalie record in team history. But he was injury prone. There was now a big question facing the Bolts: Would number 88, Andrei Vasilevskiy, be the goaltender of the future? It would not take long for Vasilevskiy to provide the answers.
In the first post-Bishop Lightning season (2017-2018), Vasilevskiy was named to the all-star game. He has played in every all-star game since then, getting set for his fifth straight this weekend. Of note, there was no all-star game during the 2020-2021 season due to the Covid pandemic. It stands to reason that he was selected for every all-star game, considering that he has led the league in wins in each of the last five seasons, and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (awarded annually to the top goalie in the league) for four consecutive years from 2018 through 2021.
During his tenure with the Lightning, Andrei Vasilevskiy has shattered virtually every team record. But his success goes beyond the Lightning organization. His name now comes up in conversations about the best goaltenders in the history of the league.
Throughout his Vezina Trophy winning season in 2017-2018, Vasilevskiy set the Lightning single season records for most wins with 44, most shutouts with 8, and most saves with 1,908. And while setting Lightning records is a very impressive feat, how does it compare to other all-time great netminders?
In November 2021, the 318th game of his career, Vasilevskiy shut out the Seattle Kraken. It marked the 200th win of his career. Only one goalie reached that milestone faster. Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, generally considered one of the greatest goalies of all time, took just 309 games. Vasilevskiy did not slow his pace at all. A little over a year later, on January 24th, 2023, with Vasilevskiy in net, the Bolts defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2. Win number 250 for the Russian superstar in game number 399. And, once again, he became the 2nd fastest of all-time to reach a major milestone. Ken Dryden hit win number 250 in game 381.
Best Playoff Goaltender of All-Time?
Regular season victories are undoubtedly important. But possibly the biggest test for any goalie is how will they fare in the pressure-filled playoffs? Over the past three seasons, number 88 has proven that he is the guy you want in your net in a pivotal game. Vasilevskiy has played every game for the past three Lightning Stanley Cup runs. In 2020, following the Covid shutdowns, the playoff season was extended slightly for seeding purposes. These extra games allowed Vasilevskiy to set an all-time single season playoff record with 18 victories. The 18th was done in style, as he shut out the Dallas Stars to clinch the Bolts’ first Stanley Cup since 2004.
The following season, Vasilevskiy compiled a playoff statistic that is almost unbelievable. He shut out his opponent in all four series-clinching games! This feat earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player. The five consecutive series clinching shutouts was an NHL record for consecutive shutouts. In 2022, when he shut out the Florida Panthers in game 4 of the Lightning round two series sweep, it gave him six playoff series clinching shutouts. Another all-time NHL record.
Tampa Bay’s Star Feline
When evaluating a goalie, fans need to look beyond just wins. After all, it’s teams that win games, not just goaltenders. And the Lightning have been an excellent team the past few seasons. So, let’s turn our focus to another key statistic- save percentage. Vasilevskiy’s career save percentage currently sits at 0.919. That means, he has stopped 91.9 percent of all shots that have come his way. That number places him at 7th overall among all goalies who have played a minimum of 200 games. When we narrow the comparison further and look at just goalies who have played 400 or more games, Vasilevskiy ranks number 5 of all time.
How does he do it? How does he make the brilliant saves? Lightning fans credit his cat-like reflexes, aptly nicknaming their 6’4″, 220 lb netminder “The Big Cat”. But, maybe, cat is not quite a strong enough term to describe the 5-time all-star. In a recent celebration of victory 250, the Amalie Arena presenters had perhaps a more appropriate notion, dubbing him “The Lion King”. Vasilevskiy’s numbers most certainly make him a king amongst NHL goalies! It is still too early in his career to know where Vasilevskiy’s statistics will put him when all is said and done. But his consistent top-notch play, packed with highlight-reel saves, has ensured Tampa Bay’s Lion King a place in history. He is a generational goaltender for sure and if he continues to perform at or close to this level in the coming years, then he will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest of all time.
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