There was a little motto that lurked around goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy through the 2015-16 NHL season. The netminder didn't see much consistent playing time at the NHL level and the line that was repeated was that Vasy getting more consistent starts would bring a more consistent effort. The fact the Russian goalie had impressed so many with his play, showed wondrous ability while in the AHL (taking a multitude of starts for the Syracuse Crunch). At the NHL level, though? With Ben Bishop getting the bulk of the playing time, the few starts that Vasy had in the regular season did not bring him at a high performance level. Look at his game log for this season and you'll get an idea of what the 21 year-old was doing in limited playing time.
Monday night started in the inconsistent effort from Vasilevskiy. As the game wore on, he was what was keeping the game from going deeply into the Pittsburgh Penguins favor.
Before the game even got underway tonight, the dramas that had hovered around the Eastern Conference Finals after game 1 were rendered silent in one way or another While goalie Ben Bishop's day-to-day status hadn't changed, it was the other incident from Friday that had a noteworthy incident. RW Ryan Callahan was scratched from the Lightning lineup for game 2 due to illness. Seeing Pittsburgh Penguins fans had wanted the man suspended for his hit on Kris Letang in game 1, hearing this news may have been pleasing or seen as an act by the Gods. Take your pick.
It wasn't just the fans, though, it was the players. The Pens came out storming in the 1st period. Matt Cullen lit the lamp for the Penguins before the 5 minute mark of the period and five minutes later Phil Kessel made it 2-0 Pens. The Lightning were outshot 8-3 the moment it happened.
Being a Lightning fan watching this and the fan explosion at CONSOL Energy Center, it felled you emotionally to a degree or two. Intensity was being shown from Pittsburgh so early and the Lightning was going to be held to nothing. That's how those first 10 minutes came off.
Like usual, the Lightning are a capable group at times like these and they damned well showed it to end the 1st.
Anton Stralman, who has not played a game since March 25th after his little encounter with Anders Lee in a game against the New York Islanders, was back. He also was the man who lit the lamp with 3:23 remaining in the 1st period, assists going to Jonathan Marchessault and Victor Hedman to make the game 2-1 Penguins. It was the first assist of the playoffs for the man nicknamed Marshmallow and it was the 7th for Hedman.
The Lightning pulled even entirely with 50 seconds remaining in the 1st period as Jonathan Drouin scored. It was his 3rd goal of the playoffs with assists going to J.T. Brown (another man returned from injury; it was his first assist of the postseason) and defenseman Matt Carle (4). The downswing of morale was over for Bolts fans, and probably had never existed for the players on the bench.
From the start of the 2nd period until the end of this game, it was Andrei Vasilevskiy's game. While Tampa Bay had its own opportunities during the 2nd and 3rd periods, they were a shadow to what the Pittsburgh Penguins were thrusting toward the crease on the other end of the ice. There were spats of multiple shots on goal by the Pens and Vasy was the reason the score remained tied. 40 minutes of regulation and no scoring came, but so many chances had been born by way of the Pens and by a holding-the-lien effort out of the Lightning.
In total, Pittsburgh had 41 shots on goal while the Lightning barely accomplished half that in 21. It's that 41st shot on net, a task performed by Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, that got past Vasy 40 seconds in to sudden death overtime and gave Pittsburgh the win to tie the series.
It's at that point you should feel the most demoralized, not so much that Vasy couldn't hold up ... but that the Lightning weren't able to step up for a hard run to end this contest. Then again, it's not like Penguins netminder Matt Murray was tired or overtaxed from the effort he put forth defending the Lightning. An effort against a netminder with stamina doesn't really promise to bring dividends in overtime, though that is a case-by-case thing.
One odd little aspect about tonight worth noting is that there were only tree penalty calls all night. That's pretty distant from what Lightning fans have seen through the playoffs. Alex Killorn and Jonathan Drouin were both called during the 1st (neither Penguin goal was scored on the ensuing power play) while Matt Murray was called in the 2nd (for tripping Ondrej Palat).
In the end, getting an effort in the crease is something the Lightning has depended on through the playoffs. They got it again here, but the lacking aspect of a counter-attack during the 40+ minutes of the game can be seen as a contributing factor to why the Eastern Conference Finals is now even. Just don't blame Vasilevskiy. It's because of his efforts this game was not a blowout.
The Eastern Conference Final now moves to Amalie Arena for games 3 and 4.