Imagine you’re a 20-year-old backup goaltender. The starter just exited Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final late in the third period. You have a one-goal lead. And the eyes of most of the United States are on you. Why? Because a lot stayed for the hockey on television after watching American Pharoah crush it in the Belmont.
Your name is Andrei Vasilevskiy, you’re from Tyumen, Russia and you showed North America how uber-talented you truly are by calmly stopping five of five Chicago Blackhawks shots on goal in the final 10 minutes of Tampa’s 4-3 win that evened the Cup Final at 1-1.
This performance has many wondering, who in the world are you?
“The one thing about Vasilevskiy -- I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders,” Lightning coach Jon 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.”
Will we be hearing more about him the rest of this series? Who knows. For all we know, Bishop had bad LeBron James-like cramps or something like that. The Lightning were mum on his problems.
But if we do, there may not be much of a drop off. As a rookie this season, Vasilevskiy, the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft, had a .918 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average.
In the World Juniors with Russia in 2014 he had a 1.83 goals against average and .933 save percentage.
But as with all goaltenders, there’s more than just numbers.
Via the Goalie Guild circa 2012:
— Vasilevskiy has a very wide butterfly, and a similar tilt in his setup stance to Nikolai Khabibulin. Like many Russian goaltenders, he stands upright and stays up on his skates in many sequences compared to North American goalies. He has the classic post-protection style, staying upright and leaning into his post, sealing it top to bottom and keeping his far-side leg in tight to his body.
— Vasilevskiy recovers out of the butterfly very quickly, and is very fluid using the advanced pop-up recovery technique. He mirrors the puck very well with his stick. He is animated in the crease, and shows emotion, but always with a stone-cold look on his face. He has a silently solid presence.
Said Hockey’s Future:
Vasilevskiy is a large and agile goaltender capable of making dramatic saves with his quickness and athleticism. Still developing in terms of the technical and tactical aspects of the position he appears to have relatively unlimited potential at this point.
Via the Tampa Bay Times in February:
There are many reasons the Lightning believes Vasilevskiy can be a future No. 1. There's his blend of size — 6 feet 3, 210 pounds — and athleticism. There's his ability to track the puck, and his poise beyond his years.
But what often goes unseen behind closed doors is Vasilevskiy's tremendous mental and physical preparation. Goalie coach Frantz Jean said it's uncommon for someone of his age and experience, believing it's on par with former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis, whose workouts were legendary.
"It's like he's been a pro for 10 years," Jean said of Vasilevskiy. "It's extremely impressive."
But there isn’t much of a body of work yet. The talent is obvious. If you watch Vasilevskiy, you think he’s closer to his mid-20s than his teens.
Of course, he is super-young, not just by goalie standards, but most NHL players. But that would follow Cooper’s idea of this Lightning team – too young and dumb to truly know what it’s doing this playoff. Except win of course.
If this turns into more than just a few minute relief stint, the Vasilevskiy story can put an exclamation point on the year of the backup goaltender.
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