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Lightning's Vasilevskiy prepared for Final spotlight

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has already traveled a long road to make his impact on the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

Vasilevskiy, who won Game 2 with a third-period relief appearance, made his first playoff start in Game 4 and lost 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.

Vasilevskiy made 17 saves Wednesday after making five without allowing a goal in 9:13 of ice time when Tampa Bay won Game 2, 4-3, on Saturday. Bishop, who has an undisclosed injury, won Game 3, 3-2, on Monday.

It is unknown who will start Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) with the best-of-7 series tied 2-2.

Vasilevskiy, a 20-year-old Russian, has been working toward this moment for years.

Ottawa-based goaltending coach Charles McTavish started working with Vasilevskiy in 2011. At the time, Vasilevskiy spoke little English so McTavish relied on a Google translator app on his phone.

"It would dictate on the speakerphone in Russian after I typed it in English," McTavish told NHL.com. "He spoke little to no English at the time, but somehow communication wasn't a problem on the ice."

No translator was needed for McTavish to see the talent that had already made Vasilevskiy one of the top goaltending prospects in the world.

McTavish has worked with Vasilevskiy for two months each summer since that first meeting and has witnessed firsthand the desire and discipline to match the talent.

The goalie regularly showed up 2 1/2 hours before every skate to stretch, enjoyed the two-a-day workouts that followed, and went to bed early to be ready for the next day.

"He really wanted to make it to the NHL and understood he had the ability, so it was almost like, 'Don't screw this up, take advantage of every moment and opportunity,' and he did," McTavish said.

Now, Tampa Bay's hopes of winning the Stanley Cup may rest on the shoulders of the baby-faced backup viewed by many as a future NHL star.

Vasilevskiy's journey may have started in his hometown of Tyumen, Russia, where his father was a goaltender in the first Russian settlement in Siberia, located 1,600 miles east of Moscow. But for the past three summers it included two months in Ottawa, where he worked to prepare his game for the NHL at the Complete Hockey Development Center (CHDC).

It's an arrangement which started 15 years earlier, when Vasilevskiy's North American agent, Sasha Tysnic, used to billet Russian players he brought to Canada with McTavish's family. When McTavish started the Complete Goaltender Development (CGD) schools at CHDC, Tysnic began bringing Russian goalies to him to train five days a week in the summer.

Vasilevskiy made an immediate impression.

"His size was striking," McTavish said. "Usually 17-year-olds that big are lanky and haven't grown into their body yet, but Andrei looked like a 25-year-old man that was fully developed. Maybe he hit puberty when he was 9, I don't know, but he looked like a man, he moved like a man, he was strong like a man and he moved like a beast.”

Vasilevskiy (6-foot-3, 207) has been in the NHL since December and his power is obvious, especially from his knees. Outside of maybe Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, few are able to move laterally while maintaining active hands from a low, wide butterfly position as powerfully as Vasilevskiy.

"The first thing that jumped out at me was his sheer explosiveness; his edge work is some of the best in the world," said Paul Schonfelder, who shares the head goalie coach title at CGD with McTavish and is the goaltending coach of the Ottawa 67's in the Ontario Hockey League. "He'll get in situations where he is very spread out and he still has the ability to get a really hard push. You don't see many goalies in the NHL that can do that. Quick is probably the only guy I've seen execute it as well as Andrei."

There was work to be done on his skating that first summer.

"As much as he could push hard, his footwork needed attention in making more efficient and precise movements," McTavish said. "He always had the power, but he wasted a little time in his movements. The last three years we have refined little things and cleaned up his footwork so he is more efficient, and that equates being faster."

As fast as Vasilevskiy moves, Schonfelder marvels more at how quickly the goalie incorporated new ideas despite the language barrier.

"If you tried to make a change he would pick it up and not only do it right away, but do it well," Schonfelder said. "We did a ton of video and once we showed him on the iPad he was like, 'Ah, I get it, I get it.'"

For all the lessons he received on the ice, Vasilevskiy also provided a few off it when he lived with McTavish last summer.

They agreed to leave the house at 8:30 a.m. for their daily 11 a.m. sessions on the ice, giving Vasilevskiy the time he needed for nearly 90 minutes of warming up focused on mobility and stretching.

"If it was 8:31 he would be standing at the door looking at his watch and he'd be mad we hadn't left yet because we said 8:30," McTavish said with a laugh. "So he made me raise my game."

After their on-ice sessions, Vasilevskiy would stretch for another 45 minutes before moving on to his other daily workout, which sometimes included a third activity like yoga or boxing. McTavish said Vasilevskiy never ate a meal after 6 p.m. and was always in bed by 11 p.m.

"Not too many athletes at any age we work with have his focus," McTavish said. "He has a daily mental checklist he never strays from. He does the things he knows will make him successful every day."

Regardless of how he responds to possibly being thrown into the spotlight in the Stanley Cup Final, there seems little doubt about his future.

"There is no ceiling on him," Schonfelder said.

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