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Vasilevskiy helps Lightning top Flyers in NHL debut

by Adam Kimelman

PHILADELPHIA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning came into their game Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers with losses in four of their past five games.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was looking for some way to energize the Lightning, and he found it in rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy, making his NHL debut after being called up from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Tuesday morning, made 23 saves to help the Lightning to a 3-1 win at Wells Fargo Center.

Tyler Johnson had a goal and an assist, and Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula also scored for the Lightning, who lost 4-2 at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

The win was the Lightning's sixth straight against the Flyers. Tampa Bay is 13-2-1 against Philadelphia in 16 games since the start of the 2010-11 season.

Wayne Simmonds scored late in the first period for the Flyers, who lost for the first time in three games. Goaltender Steve Mason made 20 saves.

Vasilevskiy was home Monday night when his phone rang. He didn't know Ben Bishop sustained a lower-body injury in the first period of the Lightning's game in Pittsburgh.

"They said, 'You watching the game?' I said, 'No, I don't have TV in my apartment,'" Vasilevskiy, who was named AHL player of the week for the period ending Dec. 14 a few hours before he got the call.

Cooper told Vasilevskiy, 20, on Tuesday morning that the 2012 first-round pick (No. 19) would be starting his first NHL game that night. The reaction?

"Pause. Deep breath. Gigantic exhale. And then a big smile on his face," Cooper said. "I didn't know how to say it in Russian and I think he barely knew how to say it in English. But he knew. His eyes lit up. It was great.

The smile still was there after the game. Vasilevskiy got better as the game went on, making 14 saves in the final two periods. He stopped four combined Flyers shots on two power plays late in the second period after Johnson's goal gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead at 6:34 of the second.

In the third Vasilevskiy stopped Flyers center Scott Laughton twice on chances on the right post. With 6:25 left in the third, he stopped a Claude Giroux shot from the right circle, then pushed across to get his right pad on Michael Raffl's rebound chance.

"He was picked and touted as high as he is for a reason," Stamkos said. "He's a big guy, very fast reflexes. He's pretty calm in there for being as young as he is, coming up and playing his first NHL game. He was great.

"Just to see him before the game, he didn't look nervous at all. He was pretty calm and collected and he looked that way on the ice. I think everyone was excited to get the win especially in his first game."

The Flyers felt they could have done more to make Vasilevskiy's night harder.

"You shoot the puck and create traffic in front of them, and there wasn't enough of that for sure," Flyers defenseman Mark Streit said. "We weren't good at breaking the puck out of our end, and way too many turnovers, especially in the second period, and that kills the momentum. Instead of going forward and using our good forecheck, we go back into our end and play defense that's the difference."

Vasilevskiy is 8-3-3 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 14 AHL games. It's his first season in North America, and Cooper said he's already seen a big growth in Vasilevskiy's game.

"In training camp he was struggling to play pucks, he didn't know when to come out," Cooper said. "Tonight he was dishing them into areas ... he didn't look like it was his first NHL game. That's why I love the American league. It is the greatest league to learn and become an NHL pro. He's clearly doing that down in Syracuse."

The Flyers, who won the first two games of their four-game homestand, took the lead on Simmonds' power-play goal with 40.4 seconds left in the first period. But the lead didn't last long. At 1:50 of the second period, Stamkos' shot from the right circle beat Mason to the short side, past his blocker.

Johnson's goal, his 10th, stood as the game-winner. Seconds after a Tampa Bay power play ended, Nikita Kucherov fired a shot from the left side into traffic in front of the Philadelphia net. Johnson, in the slot, batted it through the scrum and past Mason.

Vasilevskiy may have provided the spark, but Cooper said it was a good team win.

"In the past few games here, we've had a tough time responding when we haven't had the lead," he said. "I thought our response was good. The second period, we don't credit for a power-play goal, but it was basically a power-play goal, [then] it was two big kills and that kind of swung the momentum. We had a lot of life on the bench."

They also had a little extra life in goal thanks to Vasilevskiy.

"He was just named American league player of the week," Cooper said. "We've been going through a tough stretch here. We played him because he's a talented kid, but we thought he might be able to give us a little bit of a spark. Clearly he did."


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