TAMPA -- Andrei Vasilevskiy has had a few dreams about winning his first game in the Stanley Cup Final, but it is unlikely that even the wildest of those resembled what transpired Saturday at Amalie Arena.
Vasilevskiy, who twice replaced starter Ben Bishop for undisclosed reasons in the third period of Game 2, became the first goalie in 24 years to win a Final game in relief when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Game 2 to even the best-of-7 series at 1-1.
Goalie - TBL
GAA: 4.44 | SVP: .895
He also became the first goalie to earn his first career playoff win in relief in the Final since Lester Patrick
, then the coach of the New York Rangers
, did so in 1928.
"When I win? I just feel myself happy," said the 20-year-old Russian, who made a huge save against Brad Richards on a penalty kill and finished with five saves. "That's it. Our arena was unbelievable and I was just happy."
Vasilevskiy spent the first 47:17 sitting at the end of the Lightning bench, enjoying an ice-level view of the back-and-forth action.
But after Chicago's Patrick Sharp took his second penalty of the third period at 7:17 with the game tied 3-3, Vasilevskiy's world was turned on its head. Starting goalie Ben Bishop unexpectedly skated off, looking to be replaced, and Vasilevskiy came onto the ice for his first appearance since May 26, a mop-up effort against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper provided no update on the status of Bishop and would not discuss what the reason for the goaltending change.
During the ensuing power play, defenseman Jason Garrison scored the go-ahead goal; before play resumed, Bishop re-entered the game. But with 7:41 remaining, Bishop skated off again and it was up to Vasilevskiy and his 18 games of NHL experience to get the Lightning across the finish line, nursing a one-goal lead.
Vasilevskiy, who went 7-5-1 in 16 regular-season appearances, insisted he was unfazed.
"Nervous? Just maybe a little bit, but after the first couple shots, I feel better," said Vasilevskiy, who said he had no warning he might be playing in Game 2. "Every game I'm ready and I keep my head ready for the game and that's it."
Cooper also didn't make a big deal out of the switch.
"I didn't say anything to him; he's a pretty confident kid," the coach said. "I think it helped that he's come in relief a couple times this playoffs. He's got a taste of it. This will just add to his confidence. He made some big saves. I don't think anyone really knows what's going on, but he played great and it was nice to finish off the game for him."
His teammates, many of whom admitted they did not know about the goalie change until it was announced on the public address system, said they have full faith in Vasilevskiy, the 19th player taken in the 2012 NHL Draft.
"He's a big guy, just competes real hard; it's amazing he's only 20, 21 years old," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He's shown on every level that he can win: world juniors, world championships and in Russia. It's been a lot of fun to watch him this year."
Nobody knows what will happen for Game 3 on Monday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). If Bishop can't recover from whatever caused his departure - there is speculation he sustained a leg injury while making a third-period save against forward Brad Richards - Vasilevskiy will make his first start in the Final despite already owning a win in the championship round.
His teammates insist they will be as confident as if Bishop were between the pipes.
"We feel very safe with Vasilevskiy in the net, if that's going to be the case," Hedman said. "He's proven at every level that he's a winner, and he's one of the best goalie prospects in a lot of years. We've seen him battle throughout games this year. We'll see what happens, but we have two great goaltenders that can win games for us."