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Bolts' Vasilevskiy wins in 'perfect' season debut

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Published in Hockey
Friday, 24 November 2023 21:20

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tampa Bay had one of the most accomplished goalies in the NHL back in its net and lots of other achievements to go with it Friday night.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves in his season debut and the Lightning had a hat trick and two assists from Brayden Point in an 8-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

"Guys played unbelievably in front of me," Vasilevskiy said. "Lots of blocked shots, obviously the goal support is remarkable. It couldn't be more perfect for a first game."

Nikita Kucherov had two goals and four assists, while Steven Stamkos, Brandon Hagel and Luke Glendening also scored for the Lightning, which won for the fourth time in five games and holds a five-game points streak.

Vasilevskiy, a past winner of the Vezina Trophy (league's top goalie) and Conn Smyth Trophy (playoff MVP), was in his first NHL game since April following offseason surgery. The Lightning announced earlier in the day that he would be in the net for the team's opener of a three-game road stretch.

"He was good, like he never missed a game," Kucherov said.

Vasilevskiy settled in by stopping seven of eight shots in the first period.

"We didn't spend much time in our zone," he said, pointing out the games are much more challenging than practices. "Just a great job by our team."

It was just the second time in Tampa Bay's past 13 games that an opponent was held to fewer than three goals.

"He's one of the best players on our team if not the best," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, calling the goalie's return a momentum swing to the season. "When you have the guys you're used to having, it definitely helps."

Despite the Lightning's huge goal total, defense had Cooper's attention.

"I like the fact that we held them to 12 even-strength shots," he said.

The Lightning scored three power-play goals in the first six minutes of the second period. Those were Tampa Bay's first three shots of the period after putting the puck on goal only once in the first.

"We didn't generate a ton of chances," Point said. "When we did, we capitalized. ... We were making passes on the tape and using our speed."

Stefan Noesen and Michael Bunting scored for the Hurricanes, who had a two-game winning streak snapped and lost for just the second time in eight home games this season. Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta stopped six shots.

Penalties punished the Hurricanes, who were 0-for-4 on the penalty killing.

"We played how we were supposed to in the first period, but we beat ourselves," coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "You can't take those kind of penalties."

Stamkos has scored in four straight games and has nine goals this season. Kucherov has 15 goals and an NHL-leading 35 points this season.

Carolina's fourth line, which had been the most active in the opening period, registered the goal on Jack Drury's pass from behind the net to Noesen with 1:48 to play in the period on the Hurricanes' eighth shot on goal. It was Noesen's fifth goal of the season and third in five games.

Jonas Johansson went 8-4-5 as Tampa Bay's top goalie while Vasilevskiy worked toward a return.

Raanta hadn't allowed more than four goals in any previous game this season.

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