Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy led the Tampa Bay Lightning to three straight Stanley Cup Finals, winning the Cup twice and then losing to Colorado in 2022, so his absence for the first 20 games this season was felt.
Tampa Bay has found some momentum, and now Vasilevskiy is back. He won his first start of the season, 8-2 at Carolina on Friday, and he will be in net when the Lightning visit the Avalanche on Monday night.
Tampa Bay is 4-0-1 in its last five games, adding intrigue to the 2022 Stanley Cup rematch with Colorado, which also is on a bit of a roll. The Avalanche have won six of seven, including 3-1 over Calgary on Saturday night in the second game of a back-to-back set.
Colorado will have a challenge against Vasilevskiy, who made 22 saves in his season debut against the Hurricanes.
“He’s one of the best players on our team, if not the best,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s a momentum swing when you get to have your full arsenal. When you have the guys you’re used to having, it definitely helps.”
Vasilevskiy didn’t have to face an abundance of shots against Carolina, which helped ease him back into the action. He had not played since last spring due to a herniated lumbar disk that required surgery in September.
“Still really hard on my body,” he said after Friday’s win. “Obviously, the game is much harder than practice, but the first one is [over] and just moving on.”
It is likely Vasilevskiy will face more shots from the Avalanche, who average 32.6 a game. Colorado is starting to heat up after an offensive drought that included three shutout losses, including a 7-0 blowout against Vegas on Nov. 4.
Since that rout, the Avalanche are averaging 4.4 goals a game and are 7-3-0. Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and assist on Saturday to extend his home points streak to nine games, and Cale Makar had an assist.
Makar leads the team with 30 points (five goals, 25 assists).
Colorado also is starting to get production from others. Jonathan Drouin had a power-play goal in the first period vs. Calgary, his second in three games, and is starting to find his footing with the Avalanche. He has three goals and two assists since being a healthy scratch on Nov. 9.
“He looks great,” Mikko Rantanen said of Drouin. “I think he’s really hit his stride in the last couple of weeks. Honestly, that game against Vegas we lost 7-0 (Nov. 4), he was great. I think he’s kind of taken off from there. He’s been doing all of the right things. I have a lot of confidence he’ll keep it going.”
Fatigue could be a factor for Colorado, which is playing its third game in four nights, but goaltender Alexandar Georgiev should be fresh. He was sharp in a 3-2 win at Minnesota on Friday night, making several big saves in the final minutes to preserve the victory.