DENVER– Andrei Vasilevskiy was in the middle of the worst playoff game of his NHL career on Saturday, but Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper wasn’t about to take him out.
“He’s our guy,” Cooper said. “He’s going to be there in a couple of nights. We win together, we lose together. Even if I did (pull him), I don’t think he would have (come out). That’s what a competitor he is. That’s why he’s the best.”
Vasilevskiy ended up allowing seven goals on 30 shots against the Colorado Avalanche, who cruised to a 7-0 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Ball Arena to extend their lead in the best-of-7 series. It was just the second time in his NHL career, which spans 365 regular-season games and 100 postseason games, that Vasilevskiy has allowed more than six goals in a game.
The last time Vasilevsky was pulled from a playoff game was May 11, 2018, when he allowed four goals on 25 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Since then, he has played every minute of their 77 postseason games.
“This is the playoffs. We’re here to win hockey games,” Cooper said. “‘Vasy’ gives us the best chance to win the hockey game.”
Still, there can be no denying that the Avalanche have made Vasilevskiy look vulnerable through the first two games of the Final.
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Entering the series, Vasilevskiy had never allowed three goals in the first period of a playoff game. That streak promptly ended in Game 1, when he allowed three goals on 15 shots. Then in the first period of Game 2, he allowed three goals on 11 shots.
However, no one on the Lightning was pinning the blame Vasilevskiy.
“Listen, we left him out to dry tonight,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “He’s been our backbone for years and years and years, and we owe it to him to have a better game next game. I mean, it could have been more. He made some unbelievable saves.
“By no means is this on him tonight. We’ve got to be better as a group.”
If they can be better in front of him, defenseman Victor Hedman has no doubt that Vasilevskiy will bounce back in Game 3 at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Monday (8 pm ET: ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“Put that behind him, bottom line,” Hedman said. “He showed a lot of character staying in this game.
“You can’t fault him for any goals. Some nice plays by them.”
Among the seven goals Tampa Bay allowed on Saturday, two came on the power play, three came on odd-man rushes (including one shorthanded), one came on a rebound in front, and the other came off a giveaway by Ondrej Palat below the Lightning goal line.
Defenseman Ryan McDonaghwho was in the penalty box when Valery Nichushkin scored a power-play goal to put the Avalanche in front 1-0 at 2:54 of the first, said it was mistakes like that, not goaltending, which put the Lightning behind the eight ball.
“It was not a great start,” McDonagh said. “[We gave up] odd-man looks, breakaways. You know, he stopped probably three-fourths of those breakaways and odd-man looks, so there’s too many chances against him.
“We know as a group that we’ve got to start by defending harder.”