Andrei Vasilevskiy unfazed by moment despite Lightning loss


Andrei Vasilevskiy unfazed by moment despite Lightning loss

Jon Cooper faced the same dilemma heading into Game 4 as he did in Game 3, only this time, the Tampa Bay Lightning head coach's decision was a little bit clearer.

Entering the team's morning skate on Wednesday, Cooper admitted he had a pretty good idea that starting goaltender Ben Bishop, who's listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, "probably wasn't going to be able to go." It was confirmed when Andrei Vasilevskiy led Tampa Bay out on the ice for pregame warm-ups.

While the outcome wasn't Tampa Bay's desired result, the rookie goaltender certainly did his part to win.

"If you tell me we're going to come in and he's going to give up two goals, that's a hell of a job in my book," Cooper said of Vasilevskiy's performance following a 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks that evened the series, 2-2, on Wednesday night. "That kid gave us every chance to win the hockey game. He showed at the pinnacle of the sport that he can play."

[MORE: Blackhawks earn 2-1 Game 4 win, even series with Lightning]

Vasilevskiy, who last started on March 31 in the regular season, said he found out after morning skate that he'd be getting the net for Game 4. And he reacted as a kid ready to seize the moment on the NHL's biggest stage.

"I was just excited and that’s it," he said. "I was ready."

The No. 19 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft played every bit as advertised, given the circumstances, stopping 17 of 19 shots. But it took him much longer than he, and the 22,354 fans at the United Center, expected before he was really tested.

Vasilevskiy didn't see his first shot until the 8:18 mark of the first period and faced a total of just three shots in the opening 26 minutes before the Blackhawks peppered 16 more the rest of the way. 

Asked if he was nervous, Vasilevskiy admitted "just a little bit, maybe."

[RELATED: Five Things from Game 4: Blackhawks all evened up]

But he didn't show it.

"I can play under pressure," Vasilevskiy said. "For me, it’s not something new. I was ready for pressure from fans and players.”

And he may have to be again if Bishop can't go for Game 5. Cooper said "there's no question" Bishop will play again in the series, but concluded, "I just don't know when."

Whether it's Bishop or Vasilevskiy for Game 5, the Lightning remain a confident and resilient group heading back home, and, big picture, know they couldn't have asked for a better position to be in.

"If you’d have give us a best two-out-of-three at home at the beginning of the year to win the Stanley Cup," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said, "I think any team in their right mind would take that opportunity."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

If Vasilevskiy is, in fact, called upon for Game 5, Wednesday night proved to the Lightning — and the rest of the hockey world — he's up to the challenge. And while he continues to show great poise in net, it's also OK to soak it all in, like any 20-year-old would.

“I was just really excited. Really happy," Vasilevskiy said. "It’s my dream to play in the Stanley Cup Final. I can play better, for sure, but for the first time, not bad.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen


Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."