TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning players weren’t aware of what was going on either. Like the fans inside a sold out Amalie Arena, they were listening to the PA announcer for updates on their goaltenders.
During a stoppage of play midway through the third period, goaltender Ben Bishop disappeared into the dressing room and in came 20-year old Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had played twice this postseason in mop-up duty. Bishop didn't appear to be injured and the immediate thought was that nature was calling, a la Roberto Luongo during the 2007 playoffs.
Within two minutes of the goaltending change, Jason Garrison scored what would stand as the game-winning goal, thereby giving Vasilevskiy the victory as Tampa evened the Stanley Cup Final with the Chicago Blackhawks with a 4-3 win.
After Garrison’s go-ahead goal, Bishop re-entered the game only to last less than three minutes before leaving again, allowing Vasilevskiy to take the reins the rest of the way.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Vasilevskiy is the first goaltender to win his first career playoff game in relief in the Stanley Cup Final since 1928.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wouldn’t discuss the weird third-period goaltending situation afterward, instead he gave high praise to Vasilevskiy, who made five saves in 9:13 of work over two appearances.
“The one thing about Vasilevskiy -- I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders,” Cooper said. “When Bish had to leave, there wasn't an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself. I mean, the kid proved it when he went in. He was great.”
Defenseman Anton Stralman only had a quick word with the young rookie goalie during the change, wishing him luck. And after the way Tampa turned passive while holding a one-goal lead in the third period of Game 1, they didn’t sit back this time.
“It’s impressive, no question,” said Ryan Callahan. “Come into this situation like that with that much time left in a one-goal game, I don’t know if I could have done it at his age. It’s impressive. It’s good to see.”
Changing goalies twice while holding on to a lead in the third period of a Stanley Cup Final could have thrown a team off its game, but the Lightning didn't allow the goalie swaps to distract them from closing out Game 2.
“We have confidence in Vasy,” said Steven Stamkos. “He's come in and made some appearances. He's gained some confidence in the playoffs and made some big saves. We have confidence him.”
That was the overriding message coming out of the Lightning dressing room Saturday night: confidence. There was no drop in it when Bishop went out and Vasilevskiy was called upon.
“It doesn't matter who's in net. We have a lot of belief in Vasy and what he can do when he's on the ice when he's on. So it doesn't really matter,” said Stralman.
“We feel very safe with Vasilevskiy in the net, if that’s going to be the case,” said Victor Hedman.
“The kid is a great goaltender. He was ready to play. He made some great saves,” said Cedric Paquette.
Vasilevskiy had played twice before in this postseason: Game 6 versus the New York Rangers in the conference final and Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1. Both times were in relief of Bishop during which the games were pretty out of reach for the Lightning. This was a situation, however, with pressure staring him right in the face. Through that, it didn't take long for the nerves to settle.
“Just maybe little bit," Vasilevskiy said of the nerves as he entered the game, "but after first couple shots I [felt better]. I [kept] my head ready for [the] game."
Vasilevskiy said he had wasn’t given any advanced notice that he might be needed for Game 2 and he also didn’t have a clue what was going on when Bishop skated to the bench before the first change.
Turns out the lack of time to think proved beneficial for Vasilevskiy.
“Every game, I'm just ready," he said. "If coach tell me go in, I go in, that’s it."
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