CHICAGO -- Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy was quietly sitting uninterrupted at his table during the media day that preceded this Stanley Cup finals series between Chicago and Tampa. He was messing around with the giant cardboard name tag in front of him, playfully putting it face down if a media member happened to look over at him.
You got the sense he would have been perfectly content going unnoticed during this session and perhaps the entire series, letting Ben Bishop get all the attention.
The playoffs had been an eye-opener for him. The 20 year-old goalie prospect got into 16 regular season games after Tampa cleared the way for him by waiving veteran Evgeni Nabokov.
He had a taste of the NHL, but the playoffs, he quickly discovered, are a different animal. He was amazed at the mental toughness shown by Bishop, going into loud buildings like the Bell Centre or Madison Square Garden and remaining completely unfazed by the moment and the crowd.
He observed how Bishop would let in a goal, have the entire crowd all over him and go about his business as if he didn’t even notice.
At 6-foot-3, and armed with talent and confidence, he wondered if he had that mental toughness to succeed in that moment like his 6-foot-7 teammate.
“What I lack is [mental toughness],” he said when we chatted, apologizing early for his English, but showing a strong command of the language. “[In the playoffs], you should have really good [mental toughness]. Bish got it. It’s unbelievable. Right now for me, he’s my favorite goalie.”
Vasilevskiy’s approach going into the finals was to continue doing what he’d done all postseason long: