Lightning’s Vasilevskiy is Conn Smythe Favorite Through Round 2

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2-0 win to close out their second-round series against the Florida Panthers marks the second straight season that Tampa Bay has knocked their state rivals out of the playoffs. With the sweep, the Lightning now have the luxury of rest, an invaluable privilege for a roster that has played more hockey than any other team over the last three seasons. 

While the Lightning got impressive performances up and down the lineup, one player, in particular, began to stake his claim on the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs’ most valuable player. Andrei Vasilevskiy was astounding in the four-game series. While widely regarded as the game’s best goaltender, he has played up to the praise in the playoffs. Shutting down the Panthers in all four games, here’s a look at why Vasilevskiy should be the leader for the Conn Smythe Trophy right now. 

The ‘Big Cat’ Putting Up Big Numbers

Vasilevskiy’s stats in the second round were simply dominant. Allowing just three goals in four games while facing over 30 shots in all four games is astounding. Even more impressive is the .980 save percentage (SV%) and 0.75 goals-against average (GAA) he put up in the series. While statistics are not an end-all metric, Vasilevksiy’s dominant numbers are worth marveling over.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

His numbers for the entire playoffs are also impressive. So far, he’s put up a .932 SV% and a 2.23 GAA. As impressive as the numbers are, there is more to the story.

Vasilevskiy Coming Up When it Matters Most

What’s most impressive, is Vasilevskiy’s ability to bring his game to another level when the game means the most. His Game 7 performance in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs saw him stop 30 of 31 shots, bailing the Lightning out time and time again to hold on to a one-goal lead throughout the third period. In a back-and-forth 2-1 game, which could have gone either way, he was the deciding factor. Without his performance, Tampa Bay would be playing golf right now, and Alex Killorn would probably be conducting interviews on his jet ski instead of moving on to the Conference Finals for a third straight year. 

Related: Lightning’s Vasilevskiy Not a Vezina Contender Despite Strong Play

What makes his Game 7 performance even more impressive was the adversity he overcome to put on that level of performance. He started the series with an unprecedented five-game stretch where he didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Letting in four or more goals in three of the first five games, Vasilevskiy looked like a lesser version of himself to begin the 2022 Playoffs.

Many were quick to point out that Toronto’s Jack Campbell had outplayed him early in the series. They blamed his lack of rest on the sleepy start to the series. Despite the criticism, he was able to make the necessary adjustments on the fly.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

Game 4 on Monday night was another example, as he stopped all 49 shots to force the sweep. The Panthers came out with their hair on fire and could have pulled ahead in the first period, but Vasilevskiy stood on his head, frustrating his opponent and bailing his team out, allowing them to settle into the game after a bad start. This was a common occurrence throughout the series, as whenever the Panthers felt they were building any momentum he’d come up with a big save to shift it in the Lightning’s favor.

With the win, the star netminder notched his sixth shutout in seven series-clinching wins over the last three playoffs. He’s continued the standard of excellence he’s set for himself through his play in prior playoff runs. A standard of play that won him the Conn Smythe last season.

How Vasilevskiy Compares to Past Conn Smythe Winners

Vasilevskiy is already one of just two goaltenders to win the Conn Smythe in the last 10 years. Jonathan Quick had a .946 SV% and a 1.46 GAA in 2012 when he won the award. While Vasilevskiy would need to keep pace with his second-round numbers to get to Quick’s mark, an even better comparison would be to Vasilevskiy himself.

Comparing these playoffs to those in 2021 when he won the Conn Smythe, his numbers are in the same ballpark. He still has some work to do, with numbers slightly below the .937 SV% and 1.90 GAA he put up last year. The only major difference is that if the Lightning want to have anyone on their roster be eligible for the award this year, Vasilevskiy will continue to have to stand on his head. Unlike last season’s team, this year’s team has shown fatigue at times, likely the effects of the long playoff runs from the last two years. With that fatigue comes an increased reliance on him compared to past years. As the playoffs continue, the more fatigue will become prevalent and thus a greater reliance will be placed on him as the Lightning make a run for the first ‘three peat’ the NHL has seen since the 1981-82 New York Islanders.

While there is still a lot that can happen in these playoffs, Vasilevskiy is carrying the load and continues to be the best player on the ice every night for the Lightning.        

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