HAZELWOOD, Mo. — For two months, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy dressed in full gear, went on the ice for 30 to 40 minutes, did skating and movement drills — but never faced shots that carried higher than his waist.
That daily ritual was followed by 40 minutes in the gym as he recovered from surgery to alleviate a blood clot that turned his left arm blue on two occasions.
Vasilevskiy was then required to take blood-thinner medication.
On Monday, no longer required to take blood thinners and cleared to resume all activities, Vasilveskiy rejoined the team. He practiced with Tampa Bay at an arena outside St. Louis as the team prepared for Tuesday’s game against the Blues — for the final game in a four-game road trip.
So, what did those two months do for Vasilevskiy’s conditioning?
“I feel like I could run a marathon,’’ he joked.
“I was so excited, my first (practice) this season. And I’m so excited. I feel so great. Not perfect, but I should still have a couple of practices. But I felt great.’’
Vasilevskiy, 21, had surgery in early September to remove the top rib on his left side to alleviate pressure on a blood vessel between the rib and his collarbone. The necessary recovery time provided a lesson in patience.
“That two months were terrible for me, the same routine every day,’’said Vasilevskiy, who emerged as Bishop’s backup in the middle of last season. “It’s tough mentally because guys go on the road to play games and I have to watch on TV, so that’s a bad feeling. But now it’s in the past and now it’s about hard work and play games and win the games.’’
The former 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Vasilevskiy has not played since Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, when he started in place of Ben Bishop, who suffered a partially torn groin muscle earlier in the series. Regaining a feel for the game is the next step in his recovery.
“You haven’t faced a shot in a couple of months, so you are going to be a little rusty in some areas, your timing is going to be a little off,” associate coach Rick Bowness said. “But he works so hard that he’ll overcome that quickly.
“He loves to work, it’s incredible. He tries so hard on every shot. You see his work ethic and you see him in his first practice with us, and he just can’t get enough of it.’’
Vasilevskiy likely will get in at least another practice or two with the Lightning before the team determines when he will be sent to Syracuse for at least one conditioning start in the American Hockey League. The Crunch play four games this week starting Wednesday in Toronto, followed by consecutive games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, plays back-to-back this weekend with a home game against Boston on Saturday followed by a 5 p.m. start at Carolina on Sunday, which could be a possible return date for Vasilevskiy. A specific plan for Vasilevskiy’s return has not been mapped out, general manager Steve Yzerman said, but Vasilevskiy feels it won’t take long.
“I think one or two games will be enough for conditioning, but we’ll see,’’ Vasilevskiy said.
The play of Kristers Gudlevskis might allow extra time for Vasilevskiy.
Gudlevskis played well at Chicago on Saturday. Called up from Syracuse the day of the game, he stopped 31 shots in a 1-0 overtime loss, his second NHL start and first appearance since a relief effort during the 2014 playoffs at Montreal.
Gudlevskis remains with Tampa Bay. Kevin Poulin, who did not play while backing up Bishop for the first eight games of the season, is with Syracuse after clearing waivers on Sunday.
“Guddy just went in there the other night and played spectacular,’’ Bowness said. “He wasn’t intimidated by the atmosphere at all. He wasn’t intimidated at all going in to Chicago, played a great game and gave us a chance to win.’’