PREVIEW: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning out to strike vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Mar 2, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) sprays off his face with water during the second period of the game between the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s Tampa Bay Lightning teammates hold supreme confidence in him, and why not?

Vasilevskiy has posted three consecutive shutouts for a Tampa Bay club that has won five straight overall entering Thursday’s visit to the Chicago Blackhawks.

“He’s the best goalie in the league right now,” the Lightning’s Blake Coleman said. “There’s a ton of confidence in front of him. We know he’s going to give us a chance to win every night.”

No argument from fellow forward Ondrej Palat, who said, “He’s playing unreal, and it’s fun to play in front of him.”

With the Blackhawks and Lightning preparing to play three times over a four-day span, it would seem unlikely for Vasilevskiy to spend that entire stretch in goal.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Lightning, check out #TBLightning rumors, rankings, and news here.

At any rate, he brings a career-best shutout streak of 200:45 to Chicago, a run spanning 10 periods and dating to the first win in Tampa Bay’s current surge, a 4-2 victory at Carolina on Feb. 22.

A solid start would put Vasilevskiy in the franchise record books, as only John Grahame compiled a longer stretch of shutout hockey for Tampa Bay, going 202:46 of game time between allowing goals in January 2006.

Something figures to give on Thursday night. The Blackhawks are coming off Sunday’s 7-2 rout of the Detroit Red Wings, a game that saw a season-high offensive eruption as well as the 400th career goal for veteran Chicago forward Patrick Kane.

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Kane became the fourth Blackhawk and 100th NHL player all-time to achieve the feat and is the fifth-fastest among nine American-born players to net 400 goals. He sits four games shy of 1,000 for his career.

“The biggest thing is once you start reaching these type of milestones, 400 goals and 1,000 games coming up, it leaves you wanting more,” Kane said. “It’s exciting to achieve them and nice to have these type of milestones. It probably means I’ve played awhile, but I just think you want to keep getting better.”

When it comes to the latter, Kane remains focused not just on his own game, but the sustained success of the youthful but jelling Blackhawks, who closed February with three wins in four games to go 9-3-1 in the month.

“Our team, it’s coming together,” Kane said. “We have a lot of young guys that are just going to keep getting better and better.”

Rookie goalie Kevin Lankinen posted six of Chicago’s victories in February, closing that run with a career-best 44 saves against Detroit, including 20 in the first period.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Blackhawks, check out #NHLBlackhawks rumors, rankings, and news here.

“He was solid. He made some good saves,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “I don’t think they had a ton of Grade-A’s, but that’s a lot of pucks going to the net, and when pucks go to the net, they’ve got a chance to go in. He didn’t make anything into more than it needed to be. He was sharp and compact and gave us what we needed tonight.”

The Lightning and Blackhawks opened the season with two games in Tampa, with the Lightning rolling to victories of 5-1 and 5-2 on Jan. 13 and 15, respectively. Vasilevskiy started both games in net.

–Field Level Media