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Vasilevskiy’s timely saves help Bolts preserve a point in shootout loss

Photo Courtesy Wayne Masut | Senior Staff Photographer

Since returning from injury in mid-December, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy hasn’t missed a beat. As much as the Bolts’ offense is lauded across the NHL, there is no denying that without the Big Cat’s timely saves and hyper competitiveness in the crease, Tampa Bay wouldn’t be sitting at the top of the NHL standings right now. During his last start, a 1-0 shootout win over the New York Islanders last Friday night, Vasilevskiy stopped all 36 shots he faced in regulation and overtime and didn’t allow a single goal in the shootout.

Against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Lightning’s All-Star netminder picked up right where he left off, making multiple highlight-reel saves in helping his team to another shootout. Unfortunately for him and the Bolts, they found themselves unable to achieve the same result as Friday’s post-overtime skills competition.

Vasilevskiy finished with 35 saves on 37 shots, but Alex Tuch scored the lone goal in the shootout, propelling the Golden Knights (30-21-4, 64 points) to a 3-2 shootout win over the Lightning (39-11-3, 81 points) at Amalie Arena. The loss snapped a two-game winning streak and also ended Vegas’s four-game losing skid. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 24 saves on 26 shots, while Cody Eakin and Valentin Zykov scored for the Knights. Steven Stamkos finished with a pair of assists for Tampa Bay, while Brayden Point and Mathieu Joseph notched the goals.

Both teams controlled play for various stretches throughout this contests. However, there’s no doubt that if not for Vasilevskiy’s stellar goaltending, especially in the third period, this game never gets to overtime, let alone a shootout.

Power play helps Lightning mask some early 5-on-5 hiccups.

Over the opening three-and-a-half minutes of this contest, Vegas effectively controlled play while at 5-on-5. Reilly Smith and Tuch each found themselves with golden opportunities from the slot, only to see Vasilevskiy come up with the saves. Although it took the Lightning some time to get going at even strength, their efforts paid off when Tyler Johnson drew a tripping penalty on Nate Schmidt. Following a rough start on the power play, Point chipped a high shot past Fleury for his 31st of the season. Nikita Kucherov’s initial shot got blocked, but bounced to Point, who put the Bolts up 1-0 at 6:36.

The Lightning drew two more penalties in the opening period and their puck movement helped create some excellent chances for Stamkos, Kucherov, and Point. Unfortunately for them, none of them found the back of the net. Vegas earned a power play chance following an exciting exchange of scoring opportunities. An odd-man rush for the Golden Knights saw William Karlsson hit the side of the net. Immediately going back the other way, Stamkos kept the puck on a 2-on-1, only to see Fleury turn his shot aside. Seconds later, Yanni Gourde went to the box for tripping, but Vegas couldn’t convert on the power play. As the period moved on, Tampa Bay’s 5-on-5 play began to bear more fruit, highlighted by excellent work from the Johnson-Point-Kucherov line as well as Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph. Overall, it was a period where the Lightning’s best chances came with the man-advantage.

A replay challenge goes in the Bolts’ favor, helping them extend their lead.

Despite holding an 11-4 shot advantage in the second period, the Golden Knights created very few high-danger opportunities. However, Vasilevskiy was up to the task in denying Paul Stastny and Colin Miller on a pair of great looks. The line of Max Pacioretty-Stastny-Alex Tuch was particularly impressive for the Knights. As the period began to move along, the Lightning’s found themselves spending a lot of time in Vegas’s end of the ice. Despite this, Tampa Bay found themselves unable to conjure up much of anything in terms of high-caliber scoring chances. Many of their shot attempts simply didn’t get through due to Vegas taking away shooting lanes.

Controversy briefly struck at the 14:19 mark of the period. Braydon Coburn chipped the puck to Stamkos, who dished it to Joseph in front of the net. While the puck hit Joseph, he was simultaneously pushed by Miller into Fleury while the Vegas goaltender was trying to glove the shot. The impact ended up pushing Fleury and the puck into the net. The officials immediately waived the goal off, citing goaltender interference on the play. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper challenged the play, and after further review, the goal was correctly allowed to stand. The replay clearly showed Miller initiating contact by pushing Joseph into Fleury. As a result, the Lightning owned a 2-0 lead thanks to Joseph’s 13th of the season.

Despite the two-goal deficit, the goal seemed to galvanize the Golden Knights.

They slowly began to chip away and finally broke through just 2:09 after Joseph’s goal. Knights defenseman Jon Merrill hit Eakin in stride with a beautiful stretch pass, springing him for a breakaway. Eakin made no mistake, rifling the puck past Vasilevskiy for his 14th of the season, narrowing the Lightning’s lead to 2-1. Vegas would continue to make a push as the period came to a close.

The Lightning’s failure to bury some early third period chances leads to Vegas tying the game up.

Following a slow beginning to the final period, the Lightning began to tilt the ice back in their favor, creating a pair of glorious opportunities. Point slid a perfect pass over to Johnson for a one-timer from the left wing, but the shot whistled just wide of the net. Moments later, Adam Erne drove to the net and fed it in front to Cedric Paquette. However, Paquette couldn’t finish the chance and Fleury made the save. A short time later, Zykov and Karlsson created a 2-on-1 as Coburn couldn’t corral the puck. Coburn and Mikhail Sergachev looked a bit flat-footed as Zykov worked a give-and-go with Karlsson. Zykov took the return pass and ripped it past Vasilevskiy for his first of the season at 5:22, tying the game 2-2.

Vasilevskiy adds to his highlight reel.

As the third period wore on, Tampa Bay began tilting the action back into their favor, drawing a couple of power plays in the process. However, they found themselves unable to cash in on the opportunities. In fact, Vasilevskiy was forced to bail out Victor Hedman after an ill-advised pass led to a shorthanded chance for Vegas. With the Golden Knights buoyed by their penalty kill, Eakin bulled his way to the net during a glorious chance at even strength. Then this happened:

Seriously, is there anything that Vasilevskiy can’t do? Not only did he stonewall Eakin, but he followed it up with an even more spectacular diving stop on Pacioretty just a couple of seconds later. Although each team fired 12 shots on goal in the third period, the Knights clearly shifted momentum in their favor and continued to knock on the door. A late power play for Vegas led to another fantastic save on Stastny as he slid from post-to-post to slam the door shut.

The power play briefly carried over into overtime, where the Lightning’s penalty killers brought their A-game.

Not only did they have to kill off that power play, but they also successfully killed off a too many men on the ice penalty with just over two minutes to go in overtime. Tampa Bay failed to register a single shot on goal in the extra period, as they simply couldn’t get any sort of puck possession going even when they weren’t killing penalties.

“It got us the point,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after the game. “It was huge, what they did.”

In the shootout, all three Lightning shooters, Hedman, Point, and Kucherov failed to hit the net. On the other side, Vasilevskiy made saves on Brandon Pirri and Shea Theodore before Tuch beat him for the shootout winner. Stamkos spoke highly of his goaltender after the game, but also talked about what the Lightning need to work on.

“Vasy stood tall and made sure we had the extra point,” Stamkos said. “We’ll take the point but need attention to detail moving forward.”

The Lightning return to action on Thursday when they host the St. Louis Blues at Amalie Arena starting at 7:30 pm.

Game Notes

-This game marked the beginning of a stretch of six out of seven at home for Tampa Bay. It was their first home game since a 6-3 win over San Jose on January 19.

-Vegas’s victory ended a four-game losing streak, the longest regular season losing skid in the franchise’s brief history.

-Golden Knights forward Ryan Carpenter took a hard shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Paquette in the second period and did not return after crashing into the boards. He appeared to be wobbly while trying to skate off the ice and to the dressing room.

-The Lightning are now 0-1-1 against Vegas at Amalie Arena.

-Stamkos and Kucherov each have tallied points in all four meetings all time between these two teams. Stamkos has a goal and five assists in those four games while Kucherov has five assists.

-Point returned to action after missing Saturday’s game against the Rangers with a lower body injury.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Stopped 35 of 37 shots. Without his efforts in the third period, there is no overtime or shootout.

2nd Star: Cody Eakin – Scored a goal and created a few high-quality chances for Vegas.

3rd Star: Steven Stamkos – Two assists and had a couple of great looks at the net as well.

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