On Jan. 22, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy shutout the Chicago Blackhawks, putting a cap on one of the most dominant months of play in his young career. This was his fourth shutout since Dec. 23 and seventh of the season, putting him into a tie with Nikolai Khabibulin for the single-season shutout record for the Lightning. With his strong play and overall dominance in the month prior, Vasilevksiy seemed destined to break this record in short notice.
Over the next two months, though, he stood with seven shutouts, unable to find that final perfect game. As the year dragged on, Vasilevskiy’s play started to falter, as he allowed in more goals each game. Fatigue seemed to be a big factor, as this still was his first full season in the NHL, and the workload of starting 60 plus games really started to show by late February. While he was still finding ways to win games at the start of the month, by the end of March, nothing was going right for him.
March Roadblock for Vasilevskiy’s Perfect Year
Entering March, Vasilevskiy was at the top of many lists for Vezina consideration after his all-star caliber start to the season. By the end of the month, though, he had slid out of the discussion as the top goaltender in the league.
March was a particularly rough month for the young goaltender, who went from covering up the biggest Lightning mistakes to letting in a constant stream of goals that he normally would have stopped earlier in the year. For example, he gave up six goals three times in March, after only giving up six once the rest of the season.
It wasn’t just his fault, as the Lightning’s defense and special teams were both faltering during the month as well. The penalty kill was particularly brutal in March, giving up 15 goals in 14 games, with Vasilevskiy taking the brunt of the team’s struggles. In general, the Lighting have been far below average on the penalty kill this year, with Vasilvekiy giving up a league-worst 42 goals while down a man.
With this downturn in play, it seemed that a season once destined for greatness by the young goaltender would become mired in mediocrity before the playoffs. Goaltending is one of those positions where confidence is as important as anything else, and Vasilevskiy seemed to have lost the confidence in himself to make the right play when the team needed it most.
Boston Shutout Is What Vasilevskiy Needed
Sometimes what a player needs more than anything else is to conquer one great foe to get things back on track. When the Boston Bruins were coming to play Tampa Bay one last time in the regular season, it appeared to many that this would either be the final nail in the Lightning’s coffin or the chance to reset after an extended stretch of bad play that tumbled the team out of first in the Atlantic.
The Lightning responded as a team, putting together a complete game on the back of Vasilevskiy’s perfect night in net. After it seemed like he would be stuck at seven shutouts for the rest of the season, he finally broke that tie and set one final goaltending record in the waning games of the Lightning’s season.
For Vasilevskiy, this game was more than just a win. It was a near perfect performance against one of his greatest foes throughout his young career. Winning this one game will not fix the struggles he faced in March or suddenly remove the fatigue of playing 60 games this season, but it will remind him to have confidence in himself because he knows what it takes to be a great goaltender.
As the playoffs approach, he has to be a leading presence on the ice, since all games ultimately come down the play of your goaltender. The Lightning know to have confidence in him, so now he just needs to build off of this performance while preparing for the postseason.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.