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In the conversation of Vasilevskiy vs Price in these playoffs, there is no debate who’s performed better

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by Erik Erlendsson | @Erik_Erlendsson | Like us on Facebook
July 1, 2021


TAMPA – As the Tampa Bay Lightning head to Montreal to prepare for Friday’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, the focus on goaltending continues to be strong in the battle between two former Vezina Trophy winners Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carey Price.

As the series gets closer to a conclusion and a champion this much closer to being crowned, the conversation toward potential candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP will pick up.

There are a handful of worthwhile players on each team including Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli.

But goaltending is the top of the list for both teams with both Vasilevskiy and Price putting up worthy performances having played every minute of the postseason for their respective teams.

No goaltender has won the Conn Smythe Trophy, however, since 2012 when Jonathan Quick led the L.A. Kings to title.

No player has won the Conn Smythe for the team that lost the Stanley Cup Final since Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003.

There’s been a case that perhaps Price, who has unexpectedly led the Canadiens to the Final for the first time since 1993, should garner the same consideration as Giguere did with the Ducks. The problem with that line of thinking is, as well as Price has played and he’s clearly been Montreal’s best player, he hasn’t been the best goaltender in the playoffs.

That distinction goes to Vasilevskiy, who has the strongest case not only for the best goaltending performance in these playoffs but also for the Conn Smythe that goes beyond his three series-clinching shutouts this postseason.



Kucherov hitting the 30-point mark for the second consecutive playoffs and joining hockey royalty in that distinction as only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux accomplished that feat and Point scoring a goal in nine consecutive games, the second longest streak in NHL playoff history, garnered a plethora of the headlines for Tampa Bay during the playoffs. Both of those feats are outstanding achievements that have helped the Lightning reach this point in the postseason.

One could build a case for either to be considered for the playoff MVP trophy and not be wrong. Considering that it’s been 10 year since a goaltender has won the Conn Smythe and is the only netminder to win in 14 years, it’s not a stretch to suggest either of Point or Kucherov could win.

But if this is a one-or-the-other conversation between goaltenders, Vasilevskiy is the clear favorite when the numbers are dissected even if his performance tends to get overlooked because of the team he plays for..

“He doesn’t get overlooked in our organization,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s the mental makeup. Carey Price has a demeanor about him that it exudes confidence. And he has an ability to turn the page. He has an ability to play at big moments, and he’s grown into that. And that, I think Vasilevskiy is on that trajectory. At some point somebody has to be the best. When you look at generational players . . . somebody rises to the top. In the goaltending department, I think Carey during his time — and still his time but he’s been in the league for 15-plus years — I think torches get passed and I think Carey is still carrying the torch but it’s getting passed to guys like Vasy.”

That time might be already at hand for Vasilevskiy, who has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy four consecutive years, won the award in 2019 and was denied his second this season when he was left off the ballot by three general managers as Marc-Andre Fleury won by a margin of nine points, a margin that could have been overcome with three additional votes.

“Night in and night out, the backbone of this team,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “Can’t say enough good things about him. We certainly want to make it a little bit easier of a night than we had to for him (Wednesday), but man he’s an absolute warrior and competitor.”

The numbers this postseason show that.

First, start with the four shutouts for Vasilevskiy in the postseason, by far the most in the league. Only Minnesota’s Cam Talbot has registered more than one among the 16 playoff teams this season. The four shutouts are tied for the most in a playoff season since Martin Brodeur had seven in 2003 (Giguere had five that season) – Robin Lehner (2020), Marc-Andre Fleury (2018), Roberto Luongo and Thomas (2011) are the others to post four in a single postseason in the past 17 years.

In 20 postseason starts heading into Game 3 on Friday, Vasilevskiy has held opponents to two-or-fewer goals on 13 occasions. Price has held the opposition to fewer than three goals 12 times in 19 starts.

Vasilevskiy currently leads the league among goaltenders with at least eight appearances with a 1.89 goals against average while his .939 save percentage leads all netminders. Price is third with a 2.22 GAA and is sixth with a .925 save percentage.

Digging a little deeper and the advance numbers, all from Natural Stat Trick, make an even stronger argument for Vasilevskiy.

During 5-on-5 play, Vasilevskiy and Price have played almost the same amount of minutes, Vasilevsky at 964 minutes and Price at 962 while both have faced nearly the same amount of shots, 480 for Vasilevskiy and 482 for Price.

Vasilevskiy has a 1.68 GAA and .944 save percentage during 5-on-5 play while Price is at 2.22 GAA and .925 save percentage.

Among those shots face, Vasilevskiy has faced 115 high danger chances against, Price 105. Vasilevskiy’s high danger save percentage is .904 while Price is .868.

The biggest gap, however, comes in the goals save above average where Vasilevskiy sits at 7.68, more than three goals better than second place Connor Hellebuyck. Price is a negative 1.18, 11th in the league. In high danger goals saved above average, Vasilevskiy again sits on top in the postseason at 6.90 while Price is second at 2.34.

Where Price does have the advantage is on the penalty kill where he has only allowed four power play goals during the postseason while facing 72 shots, posting an impressive 2.47 GAA while shorthanded and .944 PK save percentage. Vasilevskiy has a .892 save percentage and 6.33 GAA on the penalty kill.

In high danger chances, Price’s save percentage is .905 and Vasilevskiy is at .853. The high dangers goals saved above average is closer with Price leading the league at 2.64 and Vasilevskiy at 2.52

When you add it all up and combine each at all strengths, Vasilevskiy has the clear edge and this notion that Price is some sort of generational playoff run is just buying in to a conceived mystique surrounding the Canadiens unexpected run to the Cup Final, overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Toronto, sweeping Winnipeg and upsetting Vegas to get to this point. And Price is likely the biggest reason Montreal has advanced this far and is a worthy candidate.

But Vasilevskiy’s performance often gets overshadowed because of the number of elite players on the Lightning roster. Just like when pregame introductions are announced in Amalie Arena, however, it’s Vasilevskiy that gets the loudest cheers. And when the stakes have risen through this postseason, Vasilevskiy has risen his game.

Starting with Game 5 of the second round against Carolina, Vasilevskiy has allowed 13 goals in the past 10 games including three shutouts, a 1.30 goals against from the clinching game in the second round, through the semifinal round and now through two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

Through this point at all strengths, Vasilevskiy has a league best .939 save percentage and 1.89 GAA and 12.38 goals saved above average. Price is at a 2.22 GAA, .926 save percentage and 4.13 GSAA.

Both goalies have enjoyed great success, and any team that reaches this point is going to have strong goaltending to reach the Final. But the numbers will show, Vasilevskiy has the edge and should Tampa Bay find two more victories, he should be the front runner for the Conn Smythe and Price should only be considered if Montreal rallies.

With that, there is no debate.


STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE

Game 1:Tampa Bay 5, Montreal 1 Tampa Bay leads series 1-0

Game 2: Tampa Bay 3, Montreal 1 Tampa Bay leads series 2-0

Game 3: Tampa Bay at Montreal, Friday July 2, 8 p.m. NBC

Game 4: Tampa Bay at Montreal, Monday July 5, 8 p.m. NBC

Game 5*: Montreal at Tampa Bay, Wednesday July 7, 8 p.m. NBC

Game 6*: Tampa Bay at Montreal, Friday July 9, 8 p.m. NBC

Game 7*: Montreal at Tampa Bay, Sunday July 11, 7 p.m. NBC

* – if necessary


THIRD ROUND RESULTS

Game 1: NY Islanders 2, Tampa Bay 1 New York leads series 1-0

Game 2: Tampa Bay 4, NY Islanders 2 Series tied 1-1

Game 3: Tampa Bay 2, NY Islanders 1 Tampa Bay leads series 2-1

Game 4: New York 3, Tampa Bay 2 Series tied 2-2

Game 5: Tampa Bay 8, New York 0 Tampa Bay leads series 3-2

Game 6: New York 3, Tampa Bay 2 (OT)Series tied 3-3

Game 7: Tampa Bay 1, New York 0 Tampa Bay wins series 4-3

* – if necessary


SECOND ROUND RESULTS

Game 1: Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 1 Tampa Bay leads 1-0

Game 2: Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 1 Tampa Bay leads 2-0

Game 3: Carolina 3, Tampa Bay 2 (OT) Tampa Bay leads 2-1

Game 4: Tampa Bay 6, Carolina 4 Tampa Bay leads 3-1

Game 5: Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 0 Tampa Bay wins series 4-1


FIRST ROUND RESULTS

Game 1: Tampa Bay wins 5-4 (Lightning lead series 1-0)

Game 2: Tampa Bay wins 3-1, (Lightning lead series 2-0)

Game 3: Florida wins 6-5 (OT) (Lightning lead series 2-1)

Game 4: Tampa Bay wins 6-2 (Lightning lead series 3-1

Game 5: Florida wins 4-1 (Lightning lead series 3-2)

Game 6: Tampa Bay wins 4-0 (Lightning win series 4-2)

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