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Andrei Vasilevskiy to start Saturday vs. New Jersey

Russian goaltender will lead the Bolts onto the ice at Amalie Arena

by Bryan Burns /

On Thursday, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he wanted to get starting goaltender Ben Bishop around 50 starts this season and backup Andrei Vasilevskiy in for at least 30 starts.

He added Vasilevskiy would start at least once and maybe twice during the Lightning's season-opening four-game home stand.

Saturday, apparently, is that night.

Vasilevskiy was the first goaltender off the ice from morning skate, and Cooper later confirmed the Russian netminder will make his 2016-17 season debut when the Bolts host the New Jersey Devils tonight at Amalie Arena.

Vasilevskiy saw action in two of the Lightning's preseason games, going the distance at Carolina (Sept. 30) and making 27-of-28 saves to earn a victory and entering in the third period of the Bolts final preseason game versus Nashville (Oct. 8).

Vasilevskiy stopped seven of the Predators' eight shots and picked up his team-best second victory of the preseason in the process.

"We talked about this in the room. Vasilevskiy was hurt this time last year, so Bish played like 14 straight or something like that," Cooper said. "We want to get our guys in early, especially when we've got gaps between games. There's always a day off or two days off, and if you want to frontload Bish this early, Vasy's not going to see a game for a while. So we want to try to get these guys in early."

Vasilevskiy went 11-10-1 with a 2.76 GAA and .910 save percentage during the 2015-16 regular season but struggled at times with the infrequent starts and long gaps in playing time. When he was a regular in net during the Eastern Conference Final following an injury to Bishop, Vasilevskiy nearly backstopped the Bolts to a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

"Last year we had the luxury of being able to send Vasy down (to Syracuse), and if he wasn't playing, we'd get him games in the minors. That's not so much the situation this year, so we've just got to find a way to get guys in when we can while giving Bish the work he needs to be as dominant as he is."

Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said not much changes whether Vasilevskiy or Bishop is in the Lightning net.

"Maybe more so for the defensemen," he said. "Vasy can play the puck well too. He's been learning. Obviously, having Bish here helps him out in that regard. Just some more talk on the ice and letting Vasy know where the D are going to be, if they're going to come and pick it up or if they're going to flank out for a quick pass. But, they've figured it out. We've been here, and he's been here for a couple years now so the D just have to be a little more vocal I guess when he's back there."

Cooper has reiterated throughout training camp that he doesn't view his goaltender tandem in terms of starter and backup. Bishop is 1A and Vasilevskiy 1B in the Bolts' goalie rotation.

"Not too many teams can say they have a one-two punch like that, so when one guy gets a rest, the other guy steps in and the team's not missing a beat," Stamkos said. "Sometimes teams tend to play differently depending on who's in net. Whether it's consciously or not, it just seems to happen. We're fully capable of winning with both of these goalies in net, and we're definitely a confident group with the way it works so we're looking forward to seeing Vasy's debut tonight."

MR. 700: Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn is scheduled to skate in his 700th career NHL game tonight when the Bolts host the Devils.

Coburn is in his 12th season in the NHL and third with the Lightning.

"I think anytime you get to a milestone, you always have to look back and thank people that helped you get there," Coburn said. "For me, that's family and that's friends and that's coaches and teammates along the way."

Coburn spent the majority of his career in Philadelphia, where he accumulated 37 goals and 161 points over 576 games and went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. He also spent 38 games with the Atlanta Thrashers at the beginning of his career.

Coburn was traded to the Lightning on March 2, 2015 in a deal that sent Radko Gudas and the Bolts' 2015 first- and third-round picks to Philadelphia in return for the veteran defenseman.

Coburn has been a steadying force on the Bolts' blue line since and has had a few impactful moments during his time in Tampa, most notably his series-clinching goal in Game 7 of a First Round series versus the Detroit Red Wings during the Bolts' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.

"It's neat," Coburn said of reaching 700. "You always feel like it's an honor to play in this league, and it's definitely something I've worked hard my whole life to do."

Coburn said getting to 700 hasn't really hit him yet because of where the milestone has come during the season.
"You don't really look back at the 699 before it, you're kind of looking ahead at all the games to come, especially being a new season," Coburn said. "It's game two, and that's kind of how I look at it."

ODDS AND ENDS: Lightning forward J.T. Brown will also hit a career milestone today as he will skate in his 200th career NHL game provided he's in the lineup…Tampa Bay outshot Detroit 36-32 on Thursday but were just 17-19-3 when outshooting their opponent in 2015-16. The Lightning were 26-12-2 when getting outshot in 2015-16, the 26 wins fourth most in the NHL…Jason Garrison and Nikita Kucherov each need one more point to reach 150 career points…Anton Stralman is one assist away from his 150th career assist…The Lightning have won four-consecutive regular season matchups against New Jersey and outscored the Devils 11-3 during the 2015-16 regular season.

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