Stanley Cup final: Lightning's little-known backup goalie

Kristers Gudlevskis, who dressed as Andrei Vasileskiy’s backup in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final with No. 1 netminder Ben Bishop nursing a groin or leg injury, nearly broke the hearts of millions of Canadian fans during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Gudlevskis stoned Canada at Sochi Olympics

Lightning goalie Kristers Gudlevskis warms up before the start of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final against the Blackhawks in Chicago on Wednesday night. Gudlevskis, 22, was called upon to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy, who started in place of an ailing Ben Bishop. Tampa Bay's No. 1 puckstopper is believed to have a groin or leg injury. Gudlevskis spent this season in the AHL with Syracuse. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

Few, if any, in the crowd of more than 22,000 at Chicago's United Center on Wednesday knew much about the backup goalie sitting at the end of the Tampa Bay bench.

Ditto the National Hockey League fans watching in and outside North America.

Kristers Gudlevskis?

Still not sure, Canadian hockey fanatics?

The 22-year-old Gudlevskis, who dressed as Andrei Vasileskiy's backup in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final with No. 1 netminder Ben Bishop nursing a groin or leg injury, nearly broke the hearts of millions in Canada and 20-plus members of Team Canada with a 55-save effort for Latvia in a 2-1 quarter-final loss at last year's Sochi Olympics in Russia.

After gaining instant notoriety around the world, Gudlevskis stuck with Tampa in the short-term while Lightning backup Anders Lindback went on a conditioning assignment with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y.

On April 11, 2014, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper called on Gudlevskis to make his NHL debut as Bishop was sidelined with an upper-body injury.

The native of Aizkraukle, Latvia went out and earned first-star honours, stopping 36 of 38 shots in a 3-2 win over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets. He also became the first goalie to appear in games in the East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League, NHL and the Olympics in the same season.

A year earlier, Gudlevskis was playing for HK Riga, the junior team of Dinamo Riga of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League before the Lightning selected him in the fifth round, 124th overall, that summer.

After toiling in the ECHL for the Florida Everblades and the AHL Crunch in the 2013-14 season, Gudlevskis spent this season with Syracuse. In 46 games, the six-foot-three, 205-pound puckstopper posted a 25-14-4 record with a 2.81 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. He lost all three games to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in an Eastern Conference quarter-final, allowing 12 goals for a 4.96 GAA and .833 save percentage.

So, with 94 regular-season and playoff games in North America under his belt, Gudlevskis, the goalie who wasn't deemed ready for the NHL a year ago, was a Chicago goal barrage or Vasilevskiy injury/illness away from his first NHL post-season appearance.


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