Ben Bishop couldn't play in the playoffs a year ago.
A late-season injury held him out after what had been an outstanding year: a .924 save percentage, 37 wins, a Vezina nomination. The Lightning were forced to turn to embattled back-up netminder Anders Lindback in their first-round match-up with the Montreal Canadiens. Lindback was far from the only problem in that series, but his .881 save percentage certainly didn't help in avoiding the unceremonious fate of being swept out of the playoffs.
After a bizarre Game 2 last night, where he left the ice on two separate occasions for still-unknown reasons, Ben Bishop may miss time in the playoffs once again. TVA has specu-reported a knee injury as the likely culprit:
Looks like a knee injury for Ben Bishop. We had a visual of the injury before he left the first time. #tvasports— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) June 7, 2015
This has not been confirmed by the team, but post-game comments seemed to lean more towards injury and less towards illness, which was also a popular theory.
Bishop unavailable for comment. Teammates didn't know what was up, though didn't think it was bathroom trips— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) June 7, 2015
So who do the Lightning turn to in net?
The next man up is Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has relieved Bishop a handful of times now in these playoffs, stopping 34 of 38 shots faced (.895 SV%) including 5/5 last night in earning the win.
Vasilevskiy has, since he was drafted 19th overall in 2012 (with a pick previously belonging to the Detroit Red Wings, acquired in the Steve Downie-Kyle Quincey three-way trade that also involved the Colorado Avalanche), been considered one of the best goaltending prospects in the world. He's still young -- he won't be able to drink legally in the United States until next month -- but boy, is he good.
Our own write-ups on him from the Top 25 Under 25 series in the summers of 2013 and 2014 contain a wealth of information on Vasilevskiy's style and development over the past few seasons. Some highlights from those pieces; first, on his style and ability:
Scouts and keen goalie-inclined observers have been fawning over Vasilevskiy's combination of raw athleticism and impeccable technique for years now. He's big, yes, but his ability to shift between passive/blocking and aggressive/saving in milliseconds has earned him comparisons to one of the world's best in Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. You can nitpick his puckhandling a bit if you want, but there aren't any true "holes" in his game.
And what he needed to work on after coming over from the KHL, where he posted very good numbers (.923 in regular season, .934 in the playoffs):
The goal in the AHL for Vasya will be adjusting his game to North America; in international play, he's a superb play reader, nearly always placing himself in good position to cut down angles, kick rebounds into non-scoring areas, and just stop pucks at an elite rate. But the KHL and IIHF games play a little differently than AHL or NHL hockey; the bigger rink leads to a slower-paced cycle game (which can inflate save percentages), whereas the NHL has become a fastbreak, odd man rush league. Vasya will have to relearn his angles and adjust his elite play-reading ability to the North American game as he sees new patterns and plays developing for how pucks and players move around the offensive zone.
And Clare Austin (@Puckologist), now with InGoal Media, goes into much more detail with this fantastic breakdown of Vasya's technique:
...a typical Yzerman draftee seems to be someone who's dynamic and athletic who needs taming, and Vasilevski fits right in there. The ultimate question will be how much taming he needs and when he needs it.
The most attention-getting thing about him is how he uses his butterfly, which is probably the widest you'll see. He gets his pads nearly parallel to the goal line and still manages to kick pucks away powerfully. Because he kicks so hard, they often will bounce out of harm's way, but when they don't, he's forced to scramble. And he's a mad scrambler, really gets his skate blade into the ice for pushes. At this point he's willing to put any part of his body in front of the puck, form be damned. He's extremely comfortable with the butterfly but uses it dynamically, not in a blocking style. He'll effortlessly transition from it into an extension or to full splits or to a longbody or back to his skates.
I think another hallmark is how aggressive he is on shooters. He plays very high in the crease, even outside the paint (see Adam Wilcox) and comes out to meet attackers. In juniors, this allows him to take away the shooters' time and space and forces them to deal with those lethal pads. I'm not sure he'll have the same success with this strategy against more talented and experienced players. It leaves his net wide open, and once those rebounds get out of the slot area, he's got to get back to his net fast. This and the scrambling are going to drive Frantz Jean insane, in my humble opinion.
In the event that Bishop can't go for Game 3 and/or beyond, Tampa Bay's #3? Kristers Gudlevskis, who some folks may remember from a pretty fantastic game against Team Canada in the Sochi Olympics.
For now, we still wait for word on Ben Bishop. There is no goaltending controversy. If Bishop is healthy, he plays. Period.
But the Lightning have to feel good about their Plan B.