- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
DENVER — Even the best in the world can have his bad moments.
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final marked the first time Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had given up three goals in the first period of a playoff game. Two of those Colorado Avalanche tallies uncharacteristically trickled through him for what could be termed “soft” goals, at least by his standards.
But being the best in the world comes with an unparalleled confidence in one’s abilities. He stopped every shot he faced until the Avalanche won in overtime, challenging attacking players with a ferocity undeterred by his first-period struggles. “He’s an all-world goaltender. He stood tall and gave us a chance to win it,” captain Steven Stamkos said.
The Lightning don’t worry about Andrei Vasilevskiy. Frankly, they’re in awe of him.
“It’s pretty cool to play with a player that’s going to go down as one of the best that’s ever played the game,” Tampa Bay Lightning winger Alex Killorn said of his goaltender.
At this point in his career, trying to contextualize the inherent greatness of Andrei Vasilevskiy is like awarding an Oscar for best picture halfway through a movie’s premiere. He turns 28 next month. He’s finishing his eighth NHL season, all with the Lightning. He led the NHL in regular-season wins in five of those seasons, capturing the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 as the league’s top goaltender.
But it’s the postseason accomplishments that have players like Killorn anointing Vasilevskiy the GOAT before he turns 30.
Entering Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche, he had played in 98 postseason games. He won 61 of them. He has a career postseason save percentage of .925, tied with Dominik Hasek, which is .001 away from the best of all time. His stats in games in which the Lightning eliminated opponents are legendary: He has six career series-clinching shutouts, the most in NHL history.
If coffee is for closers, Vasilevskiy would be Starbucks.
Oh, and he was the backbone for consecutive Stanley Cup championships and potentially a third in a row, collecting a Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP in 2021.
There has been some “Goalie Mount Rushmore” talk about Vasilevskiy this postseason. Perhaps you’ve heard it or seen it. So I asked someone whose visage is already chiseled on that cliffside about whether Vasilevskiy belongs there at this juncture.
“I think so,” Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur said.
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