Lightning’s Vasilevskiy expected to miss two months after back surgery

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) flips the puck in his glove after making a save against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Detroit. (Al Goldis/AP)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to miss the first two months of the NHL season after undergoing back surgery.

The team announced the stunning injury news Thursday, midway through training camp and with opening night less than two weeks away.

General manager Julien BriseBois said Vasilevskiy had a successful microdiscectomy to address a lumbar disk herniation. The recovery could sideline arguably the best goalie in the world for 25 or more games.

Tampa Bay was hoping the 29-year-old Russian would be fresh after a first-round playoff exit following three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final. Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy in 2019 as the league’s top netminder and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2021 as playoff MVP.

No one played more hockey from August 2020 through the end of the playoffs last season than Vasilevskiy, who was on the ice for just over 14,769 minutes of game action. He said after the series defeat to Toronto he struggled with a heavy workload.

BriseBois told the Tampa Bay Times the back injury was not related to any physical issues the goalie said he played through last season.

The newspaper reported Vasilevskiy first experienced a problem with his back in August and received an injection.

Treatment and a second injection failed to resolve the problem after Vasilevskiy experienced the issue again when he practiced for the first time in training camp.

“The medical opinion was that he should go ahead and have surgery,” BriseBois told the Times. “That was the only way to fully recover from the herniated disc.” 

Despite a salary cap crunch, Vasilevskiy’s absence could push the Lightning to make a trade or sign a free agent, given their tight contending window. Journeyman Jonas Johansson, 22-year-old Hugo Alnefelt and Matt Tomkins — Canada’s 2022 Olympic starter who has never played in the NHL — are the only other goaltenders Tampa Bay has under contract.

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