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Vasilevskiy Shines in Relief, Lightning Take Game 1

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Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday the 13th is the best way this one can be described early on. After the Tampa Bay Lightning survived a five-minute major to Ryan Callahan who was called for boarding on a hit to Penguins defenseman Kris Letang things continued to go south despite not allowing a goal, and being fortunate that Callahan didn’t receive a match penalty. Letang was able to return to action late in the first period.

At the other end, on a play where goaltender Ben Bishop misplayed the puck and in attempt to get back to his crease he appeared to aggravate something in his left leg, resulting in a stretcher being needed to get Bishop off of the ice.  Andrei Vasilevskiy came in to replace Bishop and picked up right where he left off. Vasilevskiy, 21, stopped 24 of 25 shots on goal as he helped earn a 3-1 victory for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s always interesting to see how a team will respond when an injury especially occurs not to mention when it’s your starting goaltender, and it actually seemed to affect both teams causing them to slow down the pace as the first period progressed and consisted of an abundant amount of possession changes. However, Tampa Bay was able to get a late first period goal by Alex Killorn who found himself alone after receiving an outlet pass from Victor Hedman from the defensive end of the ice to open the scoring.

After that goal, again the Lightning took another hit as Tyler Johnson left the game after what appeared to be knee to knee contact when hit into the boards by Chris Kunitz but that did not stop him from returning to the game and helping his team finish this one out.

The Lightning got an early opportunity in the second period on the power play and was able to extend their lead to 2-0 on a goal by Ondrej Palat who was able to collect the rebound off the pad of Penguins goaltender Matt Murray and slide it into the back of the net.

Murray stopped 17 of 20 shots on goal in Game 1 as he earned his first loss at home during this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After that second goal by Tampa Bay, the speed and offensive pressure began to be applied at an even higher level creating opportunities for the Lightning. One thing that will need to be worked on in these two days until Game 2 arrives on Monday is what occurred in the faceoff circle during Game 1. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 60% of the faceoffs Friday night.

At the 18:25 mark of the second period, a pinch play by Letang foiled by the Lightning created a two on one opportunity for Palat to get the puck down the ice and across to Jonathan Drouin who drilled it past Murray to take a 3-0 lead.

As the second period was winding down to a close, the Penguins started to get some more sustained pressure that led to the Lightning get charged with a penalty. On the ensuing power play for Pittsburgh, it was Patric Hornqvist with the goal where it appeared Vasilevskiy had lost track of the puck and looked to be screened by his own defenseman Brayden Coburn.

Heading into the third period we didn’t really see that true speed that Pittsburgh is capable of, nor did we hear much about Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Phil Kessel. In Game 2, these are the players that will need to step up if they want to have this series tied at 1-1 before heading to Tampa.

It was Tampa that despite the early gloomy situations that were able to play their style of game by protecting their defensive end, using their speed to get through the neutral zone and get good puck movement at the offensive zone ultimately creating more quality scoring chances and more importantly capitalizing on them. Brian Boyle really stepped it up for the Lightning especially when Johnson was out of action for a little while in Game 1.

With the injury to Bishop going forward it is going to be an interesting matchup from here on out in this Eastern Conference Final that now includes two 21-year-old goaltenders in Vasilevskiy for Tampa Bay and Murray for Pittsburgh. Murray, has been the guy for the Penguins and has been a very important piece in how they arrived to this point in their playoff run and after going up against Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers and Braden Holtby with the Rangers perhaps the pressure is not felt as much now that Bishop is no longer down at the other end. For Vasilevskiy, he’s been behind Bishop making sure to utilize his time trying to learn from Bishop and be the best he can be when called upon and now he’s getting that chance as we move forward in the series.

My Three Stars of the Game:

1st Star – Andrei Vasilevskiy

2nd Star – Ondrej Palat

3rd Star – Brian Boyle

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