Quietly, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Louis Domingue has tied the franchise record for consecutive victories in decisions, his current nine-game win streak matching ones of equal length put up by Andrei Vasilevskiy (Oct. 9-30, 2017) and John Grahame (Nov. 14-Dec. 10, 2005).
Domingue, though, doesn't know when he'll get his opportunity to claim the record all for himself.
Such is life when you're the backup on a team with a Vezina-caliber netminder getting the majority of the starts.
Domingue stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced Saturday to backstop the Lightning to a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, allowing the Bolts to finish their road trip with a 2-1-0 record. Domingue was sharp early when the Rangers pressed from the opening puck drop and was even stronger late as New York tried to rally from a 3-0 deficit and pulled to within a goal.
What made Domingue's performance even more impressive? It was his first start in 21 days. In fact, Domingue has just two starts since the Christmas break: Jan. 12 at Buffalo and Sunday's game at the Rangers.
Video: TBL@NYR: Domingue stops Strome twice on breakaway
"There's some mental fortitude there," Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde said following Tampa Bay's practice at AMALIE Arena Monday. "(Lightning goaltending coach) Frantz (Jean) made this comment after the game Saturday, he has an ability to close. If you guys recall that stretch where he was our guy for the 14, 15 games and he had an outstanding record, really good in most of those starts but he had a couple of starts where he had some slow starts, probably some goals he wanted back, but he closed those games. I think you're seeing that. Last Saturday night was a perfect example, once (the Rangers) got that power-play goal [to cut the deficit to 3-2], they were fresh, we were on a back-to-back, we did lack some energy, he was the difference and he closed that game. He had a couple Grade-As that were the difference. That's a good sign with him for us and him going forward."
Domingue was a regular in the Lightning's net from mid-November to mid-December when Vasilevskiy was sidelined for four weeks with a fractured left foot. He made 11-consecutive starts, played in 13 of the 14 games Vasilevskiy missed and went going 11-2-0 over that stretch. At the point when Vasilevskiy went down, the Lightning held just a one-point lead over Toronto in the Atlantic Division and trailed Nashville by two points in the overall standings. By the time Vasilevskiy returned December 13, the Bolts had pulled into the League lead and owned a six-point lead over the Maple Leafs.
The fact Tampa Bay was able to not only tread water without Vasilevskiy available but perform at an even higher level is a testament to how well Domingue played during that stretch. When Vasilevskiy was injured, there was a moment of concern for the Lightning. They were coming off back-to-back losses, still the only time the Bolts have lost consecutive games this season. They fell behind a couple goals early the following game in Pittsburgh, the first one the Lightning played with Vasilevskiy injured. Most observers felt Tampa Bay would do well to play .500 hockey until Vasilevskiy's return.
Instead, the Lightning went 12-2-0.
Now, with Vasilevskiy back, the starts are much more infrequent. In fact, he's made just three since Vasilevskiy tied a Lightning record for saves (48) in his first game back December 13 versus Toronto.
And yet, Domingue's play hasn't wavered.
Video: Derek Lalonde on the Road Trip
Every day starter, once-in-a-blue-moon starter, it's all the same to Domingue.
"We've seen kind of both ends of the spectrum with Louis this year where Vasy's out and he has to play (11) games in a row and he wins (8) of those and then Vasy's back, we're trying to get Vasy into a rhythm and he's playing a lot and Louis is just working hard in practice waiting for his chance," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Those are tough games too when you're thrown in on a back-to-back when you haven't played in a while. I thought he was stellar in the net (at New York), made some huge saves early on and is just a testament to how he prepares for games. It's pretty impressive and unique that he's kind of done both of those this year where he's started a lot of games and has come in and it hasn't really affected his play. He's played great throughout."
Domingue only has a rough idea when his starts will come -- "We have four back-to-backs in the month of February, so I know I'm going to play four games," he said - and credits his practice routine with keeping him sharp despite the infrequent starts.
"You try to work hard at practice, just focus on different things, try to sharpen your game and apply the details," he said. "If you do that, you're going to have success. That's something you have to do whether you're playing often or not. Technically, nothing will change."
As for the consecutive wins record, it's not something Domingue even thinks about or takes credit for. He just wants to play his best whenever his number is called and give his team a chance to win.
"I play on a great team," Domingue said. "There are for sure games in (the streak) where I needed them and there is time when they needed me, and that's what a good team does, just find ways to win. It's been working for nine-straight games I guess, but I don't think much of it. It's cool, but there's still a lot of work to be done for us."