Louis Domingue stood in front of reporters at the head of the visitor's locker room inside Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center November 17, a look of both satisfaction and bewilderment on his face as he spoke.
Moments earlier, the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-5 in overtime. The fact the game needed overtime was concerning. The Lightning held a comfortable 5-1 lead midway through the third period following Brayden Point's power-play marker and second goal of the game. The Flyers, however, scored four goals over the final 10 minutes to level the score and send the home crowd into a frenzy. Philly nearly pulled off the stunning comeback in the closing minutes if not for a handful of clutch saves from Domingue to keep the game tied.
Anthony Cirelli allowed the visitors to escape Philly with both points after scoring 1:47 into overtime. Following the game, Domingue was torn. His job is to help the Lightning win, and they prevailed despite the late-game collapse. But Domingue's stats had taken a major hit through no real fault of his own. For a backup goalie, one bad game can take months to recover from stats-wise because of the infrequent starts. Domingue already had one rough outing this season, allowing seven goals in his first game back in Arizona playing against his former team. That was a 7-1 loss, a bad game not just for Domingue but everybody on the ice for the Lightning that night.
The game against Philly was a win that allowed the Lightning to reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
Still, Domingue was conflicted. His stats didn't reflect how well he'd been playing and how in rhythm he felt between the pipes.
Video: TBL@PHI: Domingue shuts down Weise's breakaway
"They haven't, but now they're starting to come back," Domingue said recently of his goals-against average and save percentage, which now sits at 3.19 and .903, respectively. "I knew it would just because you put in the work, things are going to turn around your way. I can tell you that I started to realize it's not easy to have Vezina-caliber stats. You've got to tip your cap to those goalies that do have them."
Domingue's stats may not be in line with the top goaltenders in the NHL, but the one stat that matters most, wins, is since he's taken over as Tampa Bay's starting goalie following a left foot fracture suffered by Andrei Vasilevskiy during a practice session in Pittsburgh on November 14. Domingue, who started the night before in Buffalo as part of his normal rotation with Vasilevskiy, has made eight-straight starts with Vasilevskiy out, his most while with the Lightning, and gone 5-3. His five wins since November 13 rank third in the NHL, one win behind Buffalo's Carter Hutton and Vegas' Marc-Andre Fleury.
"That's a reality. The average fan probably doesn't see that," Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde said when asked if Domingue's stats reflect his play. "One, when you're not playing for two weeks at a time, it's very hard. And you'll see that with teams that have a true number one, and, it's no mystery, we feel we have a true number one in Vasy. And Louis knows exactly what his role, but that's still difficult. Not only is he going two weeks without playing, he is getting that tough assignment when we're on a back-to-back, our energy might not be there, it's a tough road trip. It's not very fair on the backup, but there's some mental toughness to that. And if you fight through things like that, I think it bodes well for you. I'm glad he's gotten the opportunity, but I'm really glad he's played as well as he has. I believe we're 5-1 since the injury [prior to Tuesday's loss to Anaheim], and if you had told us we'd be 5-1 with Vasilevskiy out, we would have taken that in a heartbeat. It's a huge credit to Louis."
Domingue said he's as comfortable right now as he's ever felt since being traded to the Lightning a little over a year ago November 14, 2017 from Arizona. He's reacting to the game in front of him rather than thinking it. Before Vasilevskiy went down, Domingue would work tirelessly to improve his play but never had much opportunity to put his practice to work in a game scenario, sometimes waiting as long as two weeks between starts. The infrequent playing time made it feel like the first game of the season every time he stepped on the ice. He could never get into a rhythm, found himself overthinking the game. Such is life in the NHL as a backup goalie with a clear No. 1 starter in front.
Now, with regular playing time, Domingue can work on issues in practice and apply it to the game almost immediately. He feels confident, comfortable.
"I just go out there, I don't think. I just play the game," he said. "I haven't changed anything. It's kind of just a well-oiled machine that keeps going and going. I feel the rhythm right away. That's when you play your best."
His teammates have noticed. Their confidence in Domingue mirrors the comfort they have when Vasilevskiy is between the pipes.
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"We've always had a lot of confidence (in Louis)," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "You look at Louis since he came to our team, he's been nothing but fantastic. He gives us a chance every time he's in the net, whether he's in his role playing behind Vasy. He's not going to be a guy that's intimidated by that moment. He wants to be in there every night and that's what you want from a player in his role. Obviously, we have one of the best goalies in the world in Vasy in front of you, but that doesn't change his work ethic or that doesn't change the way he goes about preparing for games. I think that is what has made him successful. When he gets a chance like he has right now to play every night, you see the confidence that he brings to the table. And he helps out in different ways as well. He's such a great puck handler, makes it definitely easier for our defensemen, makes it easier for us as forwards breaking out of our own end. He's been great for us."
Vasilevskiy's timetable to return to the lineup is four to six weeks, meaning he could be back as quickly as December 13 when the Lightning welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs to AMALIE Arena or as long as December 27 when the Bolts return from the Christmas break by hosting the Philadelphia Flyers.
Until then, the Lightning are in good hands with Domingue, the team not skipping a beat with Vasilevskiy out, remaining one of the top teams in the NHL
"The one big thing we look at is he winning us hockey games? He is. And is he making the big saves when we need them? He is," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "You can't ask anything more than that than what he's done. He's played a bunch of games in a row here, it's kind of testing his stamina and we feel like he's getting better as this goes on. Vasy's out at least a few more weeks here, and it's a big burden to shoulder. But he's done a great job."