If Monday night was any indication, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves every bit of Vezina consideration that he has received over the past few months. In the midst of the team’s lowest moment of the season thus far, Vasilevskiy rose to the occasion Monday night shutting out the Chicago Blackhawks despite facing 40 shots. From Patrick Kane breakaways to frantic action in front on penalty kills, Vasilevskiy calmly handled each and every challenge thrown his way. Although it was not the biggest game Vasilevskiy has been a part of against the Blackhawks—he suited up twice in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals going 1-1—it was a marvelous performance nonetheless.
Thanks in great part to the young Russian’s heroics in net, Tampa Bay finally ended an awful three game losing streak that spanned ten days and saw the Bolts outscored 14-4. Influencing the team’s worst streak of play through the first half of the season was a growing list of injured stars including Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat. While any prolonged losing streak is unsavory, especially for one of the league’s strongest clubs, the combination of injuries and blowout losses made many Bolts fans worried. With Monday’s victory over the Blackhawks, however, many of those fears have been quelled.
While Andrei Vasilevskiy was certainly the belle of ball at United Center, Blackhawks backup net-minder Jeff Glass made the game a battle of shutouts through nearly two periods of play. The scoreless tie was finally broken after veteran winger Chris Kunitz scored a shorthanded goal off a rebound behind the net. This was a critical momentum turn in that it not only gave the Bolts a lead heading into the final frame of play but also came in the middle of a four-minute double minor penalty kill as young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was handed a Hi-sticking penalty. This was the high point of a night in which the Lightning penalty kill stepped up impressively by denying Chicago on six power plays which included the aforementioned four-minute double minor and an extended 5-on-3 power play.
Late in the third period, the Bolts got their second, definitive tally off the stick of rookie wonder Yanni Gourde. Playing extra minutes to help fill the gap left by Ondrej Palat’s absence, Gourde fired in a one timer past the outstretched glove of Jeff Glass for his 15th score of the season. The impressive rocket shot has put Gourde amongst the league’s best rookies as he is fourth in points, third in goals, and second in plus/minus rating amongst qualifying first year players.
For as much as Monday’s victory sets the Lightning back on track and gives them ample momentum to finish out the week strong before heading back home for the All-Star break, there are still two more road games to handle. The Lightning play again tonight against the Nashville Predators before traveling to Philadelphia on Thursday to take on the Flyers.