Just when you think the Tampa Bay Lightning have lost, they find a way to keep hitting back.
They were able to stay alive in the Stanley Cup Final on Friday night by beating the Colorado Avalanche 3-2, leading to Game 6 of the series in Tampa Bay on Sunday night. The most important factor in this victory: they had a much better goalkeeper than Andrey Vasilevsky gave up 35-of-37 to boost his playoff shooting percentage to .922 this postseason and also improved his record to 3-0 when the Lightning are in danger of relegation.
The Lightning have been the best and most successful team in the league for eight seasons, and there are many factors in their rise to the top and ability to stay there for so long. They have a great coach in John Cooper, Hall of Fame talent in Stephen Stamkos, Nikita Kucherovas well as Victor Hedman in key positions and a great front office that can always complement this core with a steady stream of young talent, as well as making shrewd deals and signing free agents to find value.
But one of the biggest reasons for their success, even aside from all those stars, coaches, and forward-thinking front office, is that they have the best goaltender in hockey, who always seems to be the best when things go wrong. Table. We’ve said before that he’s good this postseason when the Lightning have a chance to knock them out of the playoffs. But he’s just as good when his team is in danger of elimination.
[Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]
It hasn’t happened all that often in his career given how good the Lightning have been during his time as a starter, but including this playoff, he’s 6-3 when he’s facing a .936 shooting percentage.
In any knockout game (25 games total in his career), whether it’s the Lightning looking to knock out an opponent or the Lightning looking to keep their season, his shooting percentage in those games is as high as .940.
In all other non-elimination playoff games, his shooting percentage is .922. Still great. Still the elite. But he always seems to find another level in games where the team’s season is at stake. And that’s why the Lightning are so hard to eliminate, and why they still have such a chance to struggle in this series, even though they’re facing a 3-1 series deficit and still need to win back-to-back games to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
But it’s not even about knockout games. It’s just when the Lightning lose in a series.
After losing the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers, Vasilevskiy rebounded with a .954 shooting percentage in the next four games (all Tampa Bay wins) and conceded just five goals.
After losing his first two games against Colorado, he has a .939 shooting percentage in his last three games against the Avalanche, saving at least 34 shots in every game. The Lightning are 2-1 in those games with a single overtime loss in Game 4.
He is a serial changer.
Vasilevsky is so good that he will make a serious opponent for almost any team he plays (with rare exceptions, I guess). His massive build, cat-like speed, deadpan poise, and unmatched performance for the era make him one of the most valuable players in the entire league. Put him on the lottery team and they could compete for a playoff spot. Put him on a playoff team and it’s a Stanley Cup contender. When a team is already a Stanley Cup contender, you have a potential dynasty.
This should be slightly alarming if you’re an Avalanche fan.
[Related: Lightning stay alive by winning tight Game 5 against Colorado Avalanche]
During the first five games of the series, Colorado was the top team by a fairly large margin. Colorado had the lead in scoring chances, expected goals, and shot attempts during 5-on-5 games in all five games of the series, while the overall numbers in the series overwhelmingly boil down to the failure of the Avalanche. They are all pretty much split 60-40 in favor of the Avalanche. It should not be a close series on the scoreboard or in the results.
But this is almost entirely due to the Lightning’s decisive advantage at Vasilevsky’s goal.
That’s the main reason this thing is still relevant for Game 6 on Sunday night.
Vasilevsky is at his best when the Lightning need him to be their best player, which is what is happening right now. Based on history, he could have a couple more big performances this season. If he does, it will solidify the Lightning as one of the greatest dynasties of all time and Vasilevsky as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.
2022 NHL Playoff Schedule: Stanley Cup Final
COLORADO EVALANCE vs. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (Call leads 3-2)
Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
Game 4 – Avalanche 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
Game 5 – Lightning 3, Avalanche 2
Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning 8pm ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning in an Avalanche, 8 pm ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
* if it is needed