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Burns: Why Andrei Vasilevskiy should win the Vezina Trophy

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns makes the case for Andrei Vasilevskiy as the NHL's top goaltender

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

In a little less than a week, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will join the rest of the National Hockey League award finalists in Las Vegas for the presentation of the 2018 NHL Awards.

Vasilevsky is in the running for the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL's best goaltender during the regular season, in just his first full season as a starter in the League.

No Lightning goalie has ever won the Vezina, although a few Bolts have come close.

Ben Bishop was the runner up to Washington's Braden Holtby in 2015-16 and came in third place during his first full season with Tampa Bay in 2013-14.

Daren Puppa won 29 games in 1995-96 to finish third in the Vezina voting.

At just 23 years old, Vasilevskiy is the youngest of the three finalists for this season's Vezina - Nashville's Pekka Rinne is 35 and Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck is 25. Vasilevskiy will probably have plenty more opportunities to win the Vezina during his career.

But here's why we think Andrei Vasilevskiy should win the Vezina right now.

1. VASILEVSKIY LED THE NHL FOR WINS AND SHUTOUTS
Andrei Vasilevskiy finished the regular season tied with Connor Hellebuyck for the most wins in the National Hockey League with 44, becoming the first Tampa Bay player to ever lead the League or tie for the League lead for wins.

Of those 44 wins for Vasilevskiy, eight of them were shutouts, matching Pekka Rinne's total to pace the NHL in 2017-18. Six of Vasilevskiy's eight shutouts came on the road.

Vasilevskiy was the only goalie of the three Vezina finalists to share the NHL lead for both wins and shutouts.

Vasilevskiy also ranked near the top of the NHL leaderboard for games played (65, tied for 4th in NHL), starts (65, tied for 4th), shots against (2,075, 2nd), saves (1,908, 2nd) and penalty minutes (14, tied for 2nd).

And if we're including playoffs, which, unfortunately, don't count because voting for the Vezina is tabulated at the end of the regular season, Vasilevskiy's case becomes even stronger. Rinne and Hellebuyck both had an up-and-down postseason - Rinne even getting pulled in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal at home versus Winnipeg after giving up two soft goals on the first seven shots he faced. Vasilevskiy, by contrast, was arguably Tampa Bay's MVP on its run to the Eastern Conference Final, his steady play probably the main reason the Lightning advanced as far as they did.

Not bad for a 23-year-old Russian completing just his first full season as a starter in the NHL, a season in which he shattered his previous career high for starts (47 in 2016-17) and admitted fatigue toward the end but never wavered in the quality of his play.

Video: BOS@TBL: Vasilevskiy sets Bolts shutout record

2. VASILEVSKIY HAD A RECORD-SETTING SEASON
Andrei Vasilevskiy is well on his way to owning every major goaltending record in Lightning franchise history.

The Tyumen, Russia native set Tampa Bay single-season records for wins (44), road wins (18), shutouts (8), road shutouts (6) and saves (1,908) in 2017-18.

Vasilevskiy went on a nine-game win streak from October 9-30 that tied a Lightning franchise mark for most consecutive victories (in decisions), matching John Grahame's nine-game stretch during the 2005-06 season.

In just his fourth season in the NHL, Vasilevskiy already is near the top of a number of Lightning goaltending categories. He passed Nikolai Khabibulin for second on Tampa Bay's all-time wins list after posting his 84th career win in a 4-0 shutout victory over the Boston Bruins on April 3. Currently at 85 wins, Vasilevskiy needs only 46 more victories to match Ben Bishop's franchise record of 131, which he could theoretically hit next season with another Vezina-worthy campaign.

Vasilevskiy also pulled into a tie with Daren Puppa for third on the Bolts' all-time shutouts list in the April 3 victory over Boston. Vasilevskiy owns 12 career shutouts, just five back of Ben Bishop's 17.

Vasilevskiy's .917 career save percentage is second best among Lightning goaltenders (Bishop, .921), and his 2.61 goals-against average is third in Bolts history behind Bishop (2.28) and Khabibulin (2.39).

Next season, Vasilevskiy will likely take ownership of the top spot on Tampa Bay's saves list and will be knocking on the door for games played.

Again, incredible totals from a goalie with just one full season as a starter on his resume.

3. BECAUSE OF THIS SAVE

Video: LAK@TBL: Vasilevskiy makes crazy behind-the-back save

Seriously, Andrei Vasilevskiy should win the Vezina for this blind, behind-the-back save alone, which came in a regular season home win over the Los Angeles Kings.

The reaction from the AMALIE Arena crowd was priceless too, a few ooohhs and aaahhs initially as Lightning fans collectively had the same thought: "Wait a minute, did he just snag that behind his back?"

Then, once the replay was shown on Lightning Vision to confirm their suspicions, the crowd erupted, rising to its feet to give Vasilevskiy a standing ovation for one of the greatest saves that's ever been made anywhere.

And just to prove the behind-the-back theft was no fluke, Vasilevskiy did it again later in the season in a shootout at Montreal to spearhead another Bolts win.

Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy dazzles in net to seal SO win

4. THE QUALITY OF WINS
Andrei Vasilevskiy didn't compile the majority of his 44 wins and eight shutouts against the bottom feeders in the National Hockey League.

Vasilevskiy saved some of his most impressive performances for the League's best.

The first time NHL All-Star put up 43 wins in a shutout in Columbus on October 19. His next trip to Columbus on December 31, Vasilevskiy stopped all 21 Blue Jackets shots he faced in another shutout effort.

During the Bolts' West Coast swing in November, Vasilevskiy gave up one goal each in victories at San Jose (32 saves) and Anaheim (28 saves).

Vasilevskiy made a number of highlight-reel saves in a December 12 shutout of the St. Louis Blues, the Bolts' first win in St. Louis since the 2009-10 season. 

In a mid-season game billed as the showdown for the Atlantic Division, Vasilevskiy led the Lightning into Toronto and out of the Air Canada Centre with a 2-0 victory after stopping all 29 shots he faced to blank the Maple Leafs.

He stopped 40 shots in a shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 22.

And of course, there was the aforementioned shutout of Boston in the third-to-last game of the regular season, a victory that gave the Lightning confidence for an eventual playoff series against a Bruins team that had beaten them three times previously during the season.

It seemed whenever the stakes were highest, Vasilevskiy elevated his game to another level.

For that reason, along with the previous three, Andrei Vasilevskiy should win this season's Vezina Trophy.

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