Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Frontrunner for the Conn Smythe

Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Frontrunner for the Conn Smythe

The 2022 National Hockey League (NHL) Stanley Cup Finals begin Wednesday, June 15 with the Western Conference champion Colorado Avalanche hosting the Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 at 9 p.m. EST. Tampa Bay is looking for its third consecutive Stanley Cup, while the Avalanche’s young core is hoping to win its first of multiple Cups.

It’s not often the two best teams meet in the Stanley Cup Finals. That isn’t to say teams that haven’t been deserving have participated in prior years, but there’s always upsets. The Lightning and Avalanche were the two betting favorites to lift the coveted trophy prior to the beginning of the 2021-22 season.

Colorado has reached the Stanley Cup Final in large part to the play of superstars Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon, so it’s no real surprise they’re the betting favorites to win the Conn Smythe at +180 and +210, respectively.

For the Lightning, Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy share +400 odds to win the Conn Smythe. Kucherov, with 23 points in 17 games, has again proven himself an elite playoff performer, but Vasilevskiy has been more integral to the Lightning’s success in these playoffs.

Elevating His Play

Watching Vasilevskiy play through the second and third rounds of the NHL playoffs, it’s hard to believe he’s the same goaltender who surrendered 21 goals through the first six games of Tampa’s first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s more than three goals per game.

However, good players (and goaltenders) rise to the challenge and that’s exactly what Vasilevskiy did in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Russian netminder allowed just one goal on 31 shots that game and hasn’t looked back.

Vasilevskiy allowed just three goals in Tampa’s four-game sweep of the Florida Panthers in the second round and, other than a six-goal aberration in Game 1, was fantastic against the New York Rangers. He allowed seven goals in the next five games, outperforming Rangers goaltender and likely Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin, as the Lightning closed out the series in six games.

Vasilevskiy finished the 2021-22 regular season with a 2.49 goals against average (GAA) and .916 save percentage, but has elevated his play in the postseason. Through the first three rounds, he had a 2.27 GAA and .928 save percentage.

Elimination Game Performances

Obviously, there’s still plenty of time to go to determine the Conn Smythe winner, but consideration should go to players who have stepped up when most needed in big games. Vasilevskiy definitely meets that criteria.

Although he looked human through six games against Toronto, he shut down Auston Matthews and the Leafs’ high-powered offense in Game 7 to secure a come-from-behind series win for the Lightning.

Vasilevskiy allowed only one goal in each of the first three games against Florida and recorded a shutout to close out the series. He allowed only one goal in Tampa’s series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Rangers.

Tampa has played four elimination games through the first three rounds and Vasilevskiy has allowed only five goals in those games, stopping 129 of 134 shots.

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