All eyes have shifted to Carey Price in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but there’s another guy who deserves just as much attention – or maybe even more.
Price has been incredible for Montreal – a huge reason why they’ve made the improbable run to the final against all odds. He definitely deserves the attention he’s receiving. But it’s almost like Andrei Vasilevskiy has been completely forgotten about in some way.
Vasilevskiy is excited about the chance to face off against Montreal’s saving grace, but he’s a bit more focused on the task ahead.
“That’s the game of hockey, you’ve got to beat the guy on the other side, you’ve got to be better than him,” the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie said during Stanley Cup Final media day Sunday. “Big challenge, and it’ll be interesting for the fans, for the experts, for everybody.”
Price’s value to the Canadiens is undeniable. If the Habs win the Cup, Price is the easy pick for the Conn Smythe Trophy. There’s enough competition in Tampa to push Vasilevskiy down the pecking order shall the Lightning win, but that shouldn’t diminish his contributions to this team.
Among goalies with at least 10 games played, Vasilevskiy’s .939 save percentage and 4.85 goals saved above average are both tops in the playoffs at 5-on-5. He’s the only goaltender with at least five games played to have a high-danger save percentage better than .890 (.896) and his four shutouts are more than double what the other 23 goalies to play in the playoffs has been able to muster (seven).
An even better fact is his numbers are better than they were when Tampa won a year ago (.931 SP, 3.06 GSAA). During the regular season, Vasilevskiy’s wins-above-replacement number of 4.3, per Evolving-Hockey, is good for third in the NHL this season, just behind Marc-Andre Fleury (5.0) and Connor Hellebuyck (4.8). When Vasilevskiy won his first Vezina last year, his WAR was just 2.1 – good for 24th among goalies with at least 25 games played.
This isn’t about making a case for Vasilevskiy to win the Vezina. What it is is to further show that another incredible playoff run only adds to the legend that is Vasilevskiy’s NHL career, one that has put him among the elite of the elite over the past 20 years. Would he earn more recognition if he didn’t play on a powerhouse? Absolutely. But don’t discount Vasilevskiy’s worth on one of the league’s top outfits.
“Part of our success has been trying not to rely on Vasilevskiy,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I think there are parts of years past where it was like we need the goalie or we’re in trouble. In the end, if you want to win, you need everybody.
“In saying that, we know what we have in our goaltender. We’ve watched him grow into the winner he is, the competitor he is. You don’t get to this level unless you’ve got great goaltending, hence why both goalies’ statistics are the same, why both teams are still playing. In large part, it’s because the goalies have been great.”
Vasilevskiy is just 26. In his career, he has won gold with Russia at the World Championship in 2014, took the top goaltender award three years later, played in three NHL all-star games and, of course, won a Vezina and a Stanley Cup and was named to the NHL’s first all-star team in 2019. Unlike most elite NHL goaltenders, he hasn’t fallen into a rut in his career yet. Vasilevskiy has led the league in wins the past four years and only seems to get better every season.
And while he has played for a contender for nearly the entirety of his career, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been valuable. Average goalies can have average stats on a poor team. A great goalie with great stats – as we’ve seen with Vasilevkisy – will find a way to steal games most others won’t. That’s what helps make a goaltender stand out from the crowd.
“He’s the best goalie in the world, we think, and he gives us a chance to win every night,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “When you only have to score one goal in a Game 7, that says a lot. He’s the backbone.”
Even though the Lightning are definitely the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup, that’s far from a given, especially with who’s in net at the other end of the ice. If Vasilevskiy’s play can cancel out Price’s contribution, the Lightning will be in a good spot with the likes of Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, among others, causing chaos up front. If anyone can match Price’s outstanding play, it’s the guy chasing his second top goaltender award.
Not that he needs any further confirmation of his value, but another Stanley Cup would help to further the narrative that he’s one of the best goaltenders of his time.