One of the hallmarks of the 2021-22 Washington Capitals has been its inconsistent goaltending. Neither one of the Capitals two young starting goaltenders, Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek, seperated themselves during the regular season. Both tendies got 39 starts each during the season and both finished in the negative in Money Puck’s popular Goals Saved Above Expected stat.
“It hasn’t happened, but yet, in a 100-point season, we’ve been able to find success in that,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said before the team’s first-round series against the Florida Panthers. “They are two young goaltenders that are pushing every day. That’s where we’re at right now. That’s how we’ve found success. We relied on both goaltenders. We’ll count on both goaltenders.”
Laviolette kept both goalies in the dark about who would start until Monday afternoon. It was then when Laviolette tabbed Vanecek to be the team’s starting goaltending for Game One on Tuesday and have the first opportunity to hold onto the job.
“He told me on the plane (from DC to Florida),” Vanecek said. “He said it was pretty good season for me and he want me to start. He wanted me to be better like Bobrovsky.”
Sergei Bobrovsky, Vanecek’s opposite in net, is Florida’s two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender who has won 336 games during his 12 seasons in the NHL.
Vanecek was asked if that motivated him and he said it did not.
“You’re not thinking about (Bobrovsky),” Vanecek said. “You’re just trying to do your job and stop the pucks and help the team. I know we have a good team and we can score goals. I always trust them. Just going with this mindset.”
In Game One, Vanecek was sturdy enough to keep the Capitals in it until the team poured it on in the third period with three unanswered goals to give the Panthers their first regulation loss of the season when taking a lead into the third period.
Vanecek stopped 30 of 32 shots faced and earned his first career playoff victory (after getting injured early in Game One against the Bruins last year). Peter Laviolette postgame said Vanecek was “solid.” Per the Capitals PR, Vanecek became the 16th goaltender in franchise history to record a playoff win and the seventh originally selected by the Caps in the NHL Draft.
“Honestly, it was a really good feeling,” Vanecek said. “The fans were really loud and that pumped me up. I was feeling great in the game and my head was just in the game so I was feeling really good.
“[Florida] have a good offense. They have skills. The defense was really good today. Tight in the back. They have a couple chances but not too many. That was really huge from us.”
Despite being up 1-0 in the series, the Capitals know that beating the league-best Panthers still remains an uphill battle. But if the team can repeat and sustain its defensive performance from Game One, anything is possible.
“First game it’s always important because you’re feeling really good after that,” Vanecek said. “The guys was buzzing. The defense was tight. The offense was really good. I hope we go same way for next game.”
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