Lightning will try to protected Andrei Vasilevskiy against Penguins

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He is younger than a man in his position has a right to be. He is 21, the age of a college junior.

He is inexperienced. He has started only one NHL playoff game. He has played in only six. He has only 40 regular season games.

He is less than accomplished. He was 11-10 this year, 7-5 the year before. He was the 47th best goalie by save percentage, the 53rd best by goals against.

Tonight, it is all on goaltender Andrei Vaslevskiy, the Lightning’s best chance of gaining a chokehold in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. If he can keep this score reasonable against the high-powered Penguins, then the Lightning have a chance of coming home with a 2-0 lead.

Vasilevskiy is in this position, of course, because of the leg injury to goaltender Ben Bishop. It is a similar one he was in in last season’s NHL Finals, when he lost a 2-1 game to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Is he ready?

“That’s why I’m here,” he said.

The Lightning say they believe. They praise Vasilevskiy’s work ethic. They praise his confidence.

“I think he’s definitely one of the hardest workers on our team, a guy that comes in every day and works hard,” said forward Alex Killorn. “It’s tough when you’re a backup goalie and you never know when you’re going to get your chance. He was obviously ready tonight.

“Whenever you can have a goalie that comes in, a backup you have a lot of confidence in, it helps the team for sure.”

Vasilevskiy entered Game One early in the first period and played well. Of course, part of the reason was the play of the Lightning defense. They were similarly protective a year ago.

“He was tremendous,” Hedman said. “I can’t really put into words how good he was. To come in like that, conference final, he showed last year in the Final as well when he came in. You’re pretty impressed by a 21-year-old to come in like that and play as well as he did.”

Game time is 8 p.m. The teams return home to play Wednesday night.

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Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.