Why Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Stanley Cup Final's x-factor

If there's one big advantage in the Stanley Cup Final, it's the Lightning's Conn Smythe-calibre netminder.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I mean, it should-- it would literally have to play out like the Avalanche being a minus-200 favorite, I think, when you take goaltending out of it. Because that could level the playing field. It could be a lot of the Lightning trying to just withstand what Colorado is throwing at them. But a lot of what Tampa's games have have looked that way. Where it's just them blocking shots and Vasilevskiy start-- like that's what they do. That is their recipe.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: They can just get five men behind the puck. They block shots. They have superb goaltending. That's the recipe. And they counterattack, they take advantage of their opportunities.

Ross Colton, Steven Stamkos, they just score when they need to have to-- when they need to, when those opportunities are presented to them. But if the chances are equal, if the chances are a 60-40 split in favor of Colorado, you have to believe that Vasilevskiy can give Tampa the edge. Colorado is going to have to own this series from a 5-on-5 standpoint I think in order to win it.

Because Vasilevskiy is going to have a massive, massive advantage, maybe his biggest advantage so far in these playoffs. If you look at the goaltenders he's overcome, Jack Campbell played really well, Sergei Bobrovsky was fine, and he's a pretty-- he's up and down, but he had a good year. And he's got capabilities himself.

And of course, Igor Shesterkin is the next Vasilevskiy in a lot of ways. And he proved, despite a little wobbly start, that he was better than him too. I'm shocked. I might have to double down on the Tampa Bay [INAUDIBLE]. Or at least maybe the confidence challenge will figure out the stakes there.

We'll get to that in a bit. I do have one more question that's kind of gambling-esque. But if the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, who do you think would win the Conn Smythe Trophy right now?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Andrei Vasilevskiy was my leading contender for that, just because of how he's played throughout most of this postseason. But it's kind of weird. Beyond that, I mean, I'm trying to think if there's been like one real significant, like--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: There hasn't been.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: There's no one-- that's it. There's no one beyond Andrei Vasilevskiy on the Tampa Bay Lightning who has consistently torched teams throughout the playoffs. It's been a collective effort throughout. And there's been different heroes and different big players at all of these different series. We're talking about Nick Paul in one game, Ondrej Palát had a couple of good games against the Rangers.

Ross Colton coming up huge, with Nikita Kucherov has had his moments as well. And I'm not even convinced he's playing at 100%. But the one constant throughout all of these series is Andrei Vasilevskiy standing on his head, and keeping his team in it, and winning these games. So I think Andrei Vasilevskiy, for me, is the leading candidate off of the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I think, by far he should be the leading candidate. And yet, Nikita Kucherov is the favorite among Lightning players with the shortest--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Really?

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --odds to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. I am shocked by this. I saw it this morning. Again, if I wasn't so invested on the Lightning victory, I would probably be going towards it. I've already bet on Andrei Vasilevskiy, it way better odds, so I'm not going to touch it again. But unless this is a Lifetime Achievement Award--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: [LAUGHS]

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --then it should go to Andrei Vasilevskiy. If it's about these playoffs, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who's 12 and 5, 9-28 save percentage. Not even 12 and 5, 12 and 4, right? No, 12 and 5.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: 12 and 5, 9-28. Brilliant. Bounce back efforts in games. Obviously, his run of not losing after a loss came to an end against the Rangers, but then he responded with four straight wins and was brilliant again in all these elimination opportunities.

Andrei Vasilevskiy won it last year. That doesn't mean he shouldn't win it this year. And Nikita Kucherov being maybe second best to both Hedman and Vasilevskiy in the last two, doesn't mean he should win it this year. Andrei Vasilevskiy has easily been the most dominant player for the Lightning. We're talking about back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophies.

That happening and him putting himself in the conversation for not only the top five, top three, but the best goaltender ever in terms of like resumes. He should be winning this Conn Smythe Trophy unless something serious changes. Nikita Kucherov simply being the leading scorer isn't enough for me. The fact that he came very close to winning previous Conn Smythe Trophies, not enough for me. He kind of slept walked through the Leafs series.

He's been really, really good and important at times, and he's risen to the occasion. But Vasilevskiy is the rock for this team. And of course, he should be the favorite for the Lightning. I was shocked to see that this morning.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: I don't want to get ahead of ourselves here, but why not get ahead of ourselves. You brought up a really interesting point about Vasilevskiy and how this Stanley Cup Final could affect his legacy so much that we could be talking about him as one of the best ever. Thinking about it here, just because guys like Patrick Roy-- three Stanley Cups. The four Stanley Cups, actually. [INAUDIBLE] has at least two or three Stanley Cups.

We're thinking of guys like Dominic Hasek who have been as dominant as they've been or other guys like Eddie Balfour or Marc-André Fleury getting 500 wins and he has a cup to his resume-- he has at least one cup to his resume. Andrei Vasilevskiy, at least in the modern era in terms of goaltending, yeah, we should already be throwing him up there with Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. But that you do bring-- I think you bring up a really interesting point, where if the Lightning are able to get this done, this puts Andrei Vasilevskiy-- I mean, I think he's already a Hall of Fame goalie. This I think certifies it. Like dude could retire he after he wins this next cup and go straight into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I think we're going to have to start having a conversation about where we rank Andrei Vasilevskiy in terms of goaltenders all time. How many goaltenders in NHL history before Andrei Vasilevskiy have you ever thought were as dominant as he was in a game 7? Because the way we talk about Andre Vasilevskiy in game 7s is on par with how we talk about Mariano Rivera as a closer. There's no-- there might be no other goalie you would want in a game 7, maybe beyond Carey Price once upon a time. But I think now if you poll a lot of people in and around the game, I think Vasilevskiy is that dude.

And I don't think he's-- I can't think of any other goalie who's ever been-- I think, for me, maybe Carey Price comes as close. But I can't think of any other goalies ever been as dominant as he's been. Andrei Vasilevskiy-- meaning in an elimination game, in a game 7, where the stakes are high-- he just is that dude. And the Stanley Cup Final now, thinking about it, that has an opportunity to elevate his legacy well beyond what it is right now and firmly established that he is a Hall of Famer and the best goaltender of this era.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: No one has the grim reaper quality, right? Like Dominic Hasek played for inferior Buffalo teams and sort of took them further than they ever deserved to go. But Andrei Vasilevskiy is a goalie befitting of the best team that you and I have ever seen play hockey. He is--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Absolutely.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: He is-- people like to separate the goalie, they'll be like, oh, you only did that because of-- like, no. This is the best team, and this is the best goalie, and together they make themselves into what they are, which is potentially the team of our lifetime. Vasilevskiy, I think, is on another level, at least in the current NHL, but is on the path to being right there with all the legends of the game that we've seen before. And what's really impressive about these three Stanley Cups-- I mean, there's a lot of things. But he's like-- he's stared down elite competition all the way through. He's overcome a goaltending match-up versus Carey Price. He's overcome--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yes.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: --a goaltending match-up versus Igor Shesterkin. He's gone head to head with Ben Bishop in a Stanley Cup Final. Whoever the best goaltenders are at the time, it seems like he can just prove that he's better then. And of course, it helps to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning. But he is what they built themselves around.

They built themselves around having a brilliant netminder who can make all the saves that are within reason, then they can get in front of shooting lanes and make things easier for them, and they can counter. I mean, when they were just trying to be-- when they were trying to win game 6 5, and they were leaving their goaltender out to dry, he wasn't as good as he is now. But with the committed team defense, Andrei Vasilevskiy is talented enough to and has the nerve and the guts to be big in big moments. It's the perfect marriage.

Vasilevskiy and the Lightning are like reflections of each other, there's true greatness on each side. And the fact that they get-- that they are one is really what makes this team special. And for that reason, he should be the guy winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.

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