TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Andrei Vasilevskiy had no warning before Ben Bishop skated over to the Tampa Bay bench and went up the tunnel. Just like that, a 20-year-old Russian rookie was playing goalie for the Lightning in the third period of a tied Stanley Cup Final game.
Vasilevskiy barely had time to feel any nerves before the Lightning scored. Bishop returned — and then left again, apparently struggling with an undisclosed injury.
But with his Tampa Bay teammates playing ferociously in front of him, Vasilevskiy had nothing to fear as the Lightning tied the series.
Jason Garrison scored the tiebreaking power-play goal with 11:11 to play, Vasilevskiy made five saves in a strange 9:13 of relief work, and the Lightning beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Game 2 on Saturday night to even the series.
“Nervous? Just maybe a little bit,” Vasilevskiy said. “But after the first couple shots, I feel myself better. Every game I’m ready, and I keep my head ready for the game, and that’s it. … First time, maybe more nervous. But second time, just play and that’s it.”
Tyler Johnson and Cedric Paquette also scored, but the Lightning’s revived offensive effort was somewhat overshadowed by three goalie changes in the third period.
Vasilevskiy earned his first career playoff victory, and the Lightning refused to say exactly what happened to Bishop or give any indication of his prognosis.
“No one really knew what was going on,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “We were kind of listening to the announcements for who was in net for our team a couple of times. But depth has been a part for our success all season, and it showed in the net tonight, as well.”
While a promising prospect, Vasilevskiy is greener than the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day: He has 16 regular-season games of NHL experience, and he had played in just two games since March 31. But the Russian came in for 92 seconds before Garrison scored the go-ahead goal, and he returned to finish the game with 7:41 to play.
With his jarring No. 88 jersey and 45 previous minutes of NHL playoff experience, Vasilevskiy handled his surprise assignment splendidly. Although he didn’t have to touch the puck on his first time in net, he made an outstanding pad save with less than five minutes to play as Tampa Bay killed a penalty, and he stayed strong while Tampa Bay prevented Chicago from mounting another third-period comeback.
“We just told him to have fun,” Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman said about Vasilevskiy. “I have no idea what went through his head, but he’s a calm kid. Even if he knows that he’s not going to play, he always prepares for every game and does everything he can to be ready.”
Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist for the Lightning, who played with all the aggression they lacked in the third period of Game 1 when Chicago rallied late to win.
The Lightning didn’t say why Bishop left the game, came back and left again. He complained of interference on Brent Seabrook’s tying goal early in the third period, but played on for several minutes.
Game 3 is Monday night in Chicago.
Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen scored 2:16 apart early in the second period for the Blackhawks.
“Regardless of who’s in net, we were trying to find a way to tie that game in the end,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who set up Seabrook’s goal. “But sometimes those ones slip away from you. We just kept giving up goals every time we tied the game or got ourselves back into it. We just ran out of time.”
Patrick Sharp took two penalties 2:18 apart in the third period, and the Lightning scored the winner on the second power play.
“It was something I don’t think I’ve ever done before,” Sharp said. “It happened. You move on from it. I take responsibility and apologize to our penalty killers for putting them under such stress.”
With Sharp in the box, Garrison put the Lightning ahead when his shot apparently deflected off a Chicago player in front of Corey Crawford, who stopped 20 shots in an uninspiring effort. The goal was just Garrison’s second of the postseason and his first since April 27.
The Lightning again showed off the resilience that got them to this lofty height, improving to 4-0 in Game 2 of their four postseason series after going 1-3 in Game 1. Tampa Bay has lost two straight games only once in the entire playoffs.
The Lightning blamed their 2-1 loss in the opener on too much caution in the third period, when Chicago scored two late goals to win. Neither team showed any particular caution from the start of Game 2, skating aggressively and working hard for offensive chances.
Paquette put a long shot through heavy traffic late in the first period for his first goal since April 27, ending a 13-game drought.
Shaw made his biggest impact on Game 1 when he apparently bit Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, but he evened Game 2 early in the second by outfighting Garrison for a loose puck.
During a power play moments later, Teravainen scored his third goal in two games off Marian Hossa’s setup. The Lightning swiftly tied it up on a back-to-the-net, between-his-own-legs deflection by the gifted Kucherov.
Johnson then ended his five-game goal drought with his NHL-leading 13th goal of the postseason. Crawford probably should have saved the backhand, but it slid across his sweater and dropped in for Johnson’s first goal since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Seabrook evened it with 16:22 left in the third, teeing up a hard shot with no opposition after the Tampa Bay defense got distracted by captain Jonathan Toews. Bishop claimed Hossa interfered with him on top of his crease, but the goal stood.
NOTES: The Stanley Cup Final’s first two games were split for just the second time since 2004. … Jonathan Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft, returned to Tampa Bay’s lineup for the first time since May 7. … Chicago’s Joel Quenneville coached his 200th playoff game. … Blackhawks D Niklas Hjalmarsson turned 28 years old.
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