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He’s Back! The Successful Return of Andrei Vasilevskiy

The long awaited season debut for Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy finally happened tonight. After surgery at the beginning of training camp back in September, the Lightning’s number one goalie is back. Tampa is on the road facing the Carolina Hurricanes. Will the return of Vasilevskiy spur on his team? If the home team has anything to say about it, they won’t lay down simply because of Vasilevskiy’s return. 

How much impact Vasilevskiy’s return will have for his team remains to be seen. One thing for certain, having the best goalie on the planet in net is better than not having him. For Carolina, Antti Raanta is in net. The Hurricanes beat the Lightning two weeks ago 4-0 in Tampa in what many fans believe was the worst game performance by the Lightning this season. Will the Lightning get a lift from the return of their all-world goalie? Will the Hurricanes want to build on their win from a couple weeks ago?

What His Return Means and What It Doesn’t

Just getting Vasilevskiy back doesn’t mean that he is the elixir that magically turns the Lightning season around. We have all seen some issues with turnovers and giveaways especially in their defensive zone. During his absence, his backup Jonas Johansson faced more shots than any goalie in the league. If the team defense continues to allow this many shots against, even with an all-everything goalie, some goals will be given up. It took about four minutes into this game before Vasilevskiy saw his first shot of the season. Naturally, he made the save look easy. It took the Lightning almost 14 minutes of the initial period before Tyler Motte registered the first shot for the visitors on Raanta.    

As the period was coming to a close, the Hurricanes were getting more zone time. The Lightning were playing back on their heels a bit. It paid off for the home team as Stefan Noesen got the puck in the low slot and put the puck past Vasilevskiy to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. The penalty free first period came to an end with that same score and the Lightning beaten 8 to 1 in shots on goal. Something will need to change offensively for the Lightning against this team. 

In that loss a couple weeks ago against the Hurricanes, not only were the Lightning shut out but they were outshot 32-22 in dropping that 4-0 game. Tampa also has not scored against Carolina in four consecutive periods. If they cannot muster a goal in this game, even if they built a brick wall covering their net, they’ll drop this game. Let’s see how determined the Lightning will be to put on an offensive attack in the next period.

Turning Up The Power

After going 20 minutes in the first period without a penalty, the game’s first whistle came 30 seconds into the second period. Carolina was called for a penalty. In the first few seconds with the extra man, it wasn’t the Lightning who got a shot on goal. Jordan Staal got a shot off which Vasilevskiy saved. Then the Lightning got a successful entry into the Hurricanes zone. Next thing you know, it was Nikita Kucherov passing to Brayden Point who shoveled the puck to Steven Stamkos who was already winding up to shoot. Enough said. Like he has done time and time again, Stamkos pots the power play goal. Game is tied at one.

Was the tide about to turn? About three minutes after Stamkos scored on the power play, another Hurricane was called for another penalty. Coming into tonight’s game, the Lightning’s power play units were second best in the league with a 31.3% conversion rate. While this power play chance was slow developing, when the Lightning settled down, Kucherov snapped the puck past Raanta to give the Lightning the 2-1 lead.

Putting the Power in Power Play 

No less than eight seconds after the Kucherov goal, the Hurricanes were called for another penalty. Six seconds into the power play, Point took a beautiful feed from Kucherov to score the Lightning’s third goal and third power play goal of the game. Lightning now lead 3-1 and are taking the crowd out of the game.

For almost ten minutes, the Lightning were taking it to the Hurricanes. They even killed off a penalty where Carolina didn’t even get a shot on goal. Almost immediately after killing this penalty, the Lightning committed another, giving the home team another power play opportunity. Carolina won the faceoff and a few seconds later, Michael Bunting, yes that Michael Bunting, scores the goal to make it 3-2 Lightning. Tampa fans remember Bunting for his dirty hit on Erik Cernak last year in the playoffs against Toronto. That was the score as the period ended with both teams playing at a frenzied pace. Would that lead to more offense in the final period?

Putting the Power on Even Strength.

The importance of this game is not for the standings. It’s so early in the season that even a loss of those two points could be made up. For the Lightning, the statement in this game is how they play in front of their number one goalie. Getting this win for their goalie should be their focus. Easier said than done as they enter the final regulation period with the slimmest lead in hockey – one goal. Five minutes into the period, Brandon Hagel scored a goal to give his team a little breathing room with a 4-2 lead.

Less than a minute later, Luke Glendenning scored on a nice wraparound goal to put the Lightning up 5-2 with 13 minutes remaining. You could sense the air was going out of the building. Perhaps because it was because the Carolina fans started to file out of the arena. Remember that embarrassment of a game two weeks ago at the hand of this same Hurricane team? Clearly, the Lightning remembered. Point scored his second goal of the game to increase the Lightning lead to 6-2.

Playing For a W for Vasilveskiy

Even with a 6-2 lead, there was no quit in this Lightning team tonight. Playing as if they were down a couple of goals, Kucherov began to skate towards Carolina’s zone, He then maneuvered his way around three defenders and still found a way to score, The rout is on.

This is the last game between these two teams for the regular season. Prior to tonight’s game, the Lightning took Game 1 here in Raleigh in October by a score of 3-0. Then the loss came earlier this month at Amalie Arena 4-0. Safe to say that not only are the Lightning taking the season series, they are making an emphatic statement. To make matters worse for the home team tonight, the Lightning not only find a way to post a snowman of a score but Point nails a hat trick to give good guys an 8-2 lead.

Three Stars 

  1. Brayden Point – 3 goals, 2 assists for 5 total points
  2. Nikita Kucherov – 2 goals, 4 assists for 6 total points
  3. Brandon Hagel – 1 goals, 2 assists for 3 total points

What’s Next

The Lightning head to Colorado to face the Avalanche on Monday night. Puck drops at 9:00pm.

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