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The Impact of Russians In The NHL

With on-and-off negative state of affairs between the United States and Russia, it is common to put Russian hockey players on a political pedestal. Representing the “best” of a country so wracked in controversy, while simultaneously representing a country who claims to “be the best,” Russian hockey players that play in North America clearly get the short end of the stick in most regards, especially politically.

However, this article is not meant to judge these players based on political stance or personal connections. It is simply meant to praise and recognize these great players for who they are, skilled artists at the game of hockey.

A History of Soviet Hockey

To start this article, it is important to note the significance of hockey in Russia and the history behind it. Ice hockey wasn’t introduced to the Soviet Union until the 1940s. Much later than in the West, which was introduced to hockey in the 1800s from Nova Scotia by the Mi’kmaq people, which then spread throughout Canada via Scottish and Irish immigrants. Evolving into the game we know and love today.

The Soviets caught onto the hockey buzz of the West, after Soviet sports officials watched National Hockey League games in 1945. Following this, the officials decided they wanted to create their own national hockey team, the CCCP. Russia’s national sport at the time, soccer (or football), was slowly diminishing in popularity and the Soviet Championship League was established in 1946, and the national team was formed shortly after, playing their first matches in a series of exhibitions in 1948. There was a military-like conscription to enlist the best hockey players in the nation to play for the team.

There was heavy propaganda surrounding this and many young boys throughout the nation dreamt of being a part of the CCCP. In the end, the CCCP enlisted 25 notable players which helped propel the team to national superiority. The CCCP had their own tag team of hockey superstars, known as the “Russian Five,” Sergei Makarov, Aleksandr Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov, and Vladimir Petrov. Totally amassing 1,016 points throughout their time at the CCCP.

These players were held to high national regard and were considered legends in the sport and in Soviet pop culture. With the tensions of the Cold War, Soviets had immense pressure to win the Olympic championship against the United States. Proving that Soviet hockey (Communist hockey) was superior to United States hockey (Capitalist hockey). The rivalry was palpable and massive efforts were made on both sides to win the match. However, the Soviet effort just wasn’t enough.

Playing the United States in the medal round of the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviets lost 4–3. This match, later dubbed the Miracle on Ice, was notable because it had the Soviets, recognized as the top international team in the world, against an American team composed largely of university-level players. The Americans would go on to win the gold medal in the tournament, while the Soviets finished with the silver, only the second time they failed to win gold at the Olympics since their debut in 1956.

Following this crushing loss for the CCCP, there was massive reform in the Soviet hockey team, hoping to improve their standings and national pride. This led to a detrimental effect on the CCCP players who openly critiqued the management style of their coach, Viktor Tikhonov, which included being secluded in a military-style barracks for eleven months of the year. They also sought the chance to move to North America and play in the NHL, though the authorities were reluctant to allow this. Negotiations with the NHL began in the late 1980s over this, and in 1989 several players, including both Fetisov and Larionov, were permitted to leave the Soviet Union and join NHL teams, demolishing the integrity of the CCCP.

The NHL saw a large migration of Russian Soviet players to their teams following the 1980s, and the Russian influence on the sport made its way through Western hockey.

The Detroit Russian Five

The first notable instance of true dominance of Russians in Western hockey saw itself manifest in the Detroit Red Wings “Russian Five” in the 1990s, composed of Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, Slava Fetisov, and Igor Larionov.

For much of the 1995–96 season, Bowman played the five Russians together as a unit. By that time, there were 55 Russians playing in the NHL. Only the Red Wings, however, had put together such a combination in starring roles on their team. At the end of the regular season, the five Russians had scored 117 of the Red Wings’ 325 goals. The team won an NHL-record 62 games, but fell to the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the Western Conference Finals. Towards the end of the regular season, Bowman had begun mixing and matching the five Russians with other teammates at times.

In the 1997 playoffs, the Russian Five were a critical part of each series. In the first round against the St. Louis Blues, Larionov led the team with five assists. In a second-round sweep of the Anaheim Ducks, the top three Wings scorers were Fedorov, with five points, along with Konstantinov and Kozlov, with four points each. In a Western Conference finals rematch against the Avalanche, Fedorov led all scorers with three goals and four assists, while Larionov and Kozlov each had two goals and three assists. All three players contributed a game-winning goal during the series.

Detroit faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals. Before the series, most hockey commentators believed that the Flyers’ size and strength, led by MVP Eric Lindros, would be too much for the smaller  Red Wings to handle, and the Flyers were favored to win the Stanley Cup. However, the Red Wings surprised everyone by being the more physical team. One standout in that regard was Vladimir Konstantinov. Early in Game 1, he leveled Flyers winger Trent Klatt as he attempted to carry the puck into the Wings’ end; Klatt lay on the ice for several seconds afterwards. In Game 3, Konstantinov delivered a hit on Dale Hawerchuk that led to a Red Wings goal 24 seconds later; Hawerchuk did not play in Game 4 and retired after the season. The Red Wings swept the Flyers and won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

The five players forever changed how North Americans viewed hockey players from Russia. Until the 1990s, there had been a perception that Europeans in general, and Russians in particular, were “soft”, and that a team with too many of them would never be able to win a Stanley Cup. The Russian Five dispelled those myths forever, not only with two Cup wins but also because Konstantinov was one of the most feared hitters in the NHL. Steve Yzerman said of his former teammates, “The way they conducted themselves, the way they played for our team – that has changed the tone for European players in general.”

Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin is already the greatest goal-scorer of the 21st century, with a chance to become number 1 in NHL history. The Moscow native became the eighth member of the NHL’s 700-goal club when he scored for the Washington Capitals against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 22, 2020; at 34 years and 158 days, he joined all-time leader Wayne Gretzky (29 years) as the only players to reach 700 goals before turning 35. He kept on scoring after reaching number 700. Ovechkin won the Maurice Richard Trophy for the ninth time in 2019-20 after sharing the NHL lead in goals with David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins, each scored 48.

His trademark one-timer from the top of the left circle, also known as The Ovi Office, is one of the most famous shots in NHL history. But at 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, Ovechkin is a combination of speed, skill and power the likes of which the NHL has rarely seen; he’s one of the few big scorers in league history who also plays a physical game.

He also plays with a joy that few players in any sport can match.

“It doesn’t matter where I play,” Ovechkin said. “If coach says I must play goalie, I will play goalie.”

Ovechkin, taken by Washington with the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, has spent his career making life miserable for opposing goalies. He had two goals for the Capitals against the Blue Jackets in his NHL debut Oct. 5, 2005, scored one of the most spectacular goals in NHL history against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 16, 2006, and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie after finishing his first season with 106 points (52 goals, 54 assists).

“Within a week or so we knew that we had a real special human being here,” said Glen Hanlon, Ovechkin’s first coach with the Capitals.

Ovechkin scored 46 goals in his second season, then scored 65, still the most in the 21st century, in 2007-08. Ovechkin also had 47 assists and led the NHL with 112 points, winning the Art Ross, Richard and Hart trophies and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now the Ted Lindsay Award).

The goals and awards kept coming. Ovechkin won the Richard and Hart trophies and Pearson Award again in 2008-09 after leading the NHL with 56 goals. By 2018-19, he had won the Richard Trophy (awarded to the NHL’s top goal scorer) eight times and the Hart Trophy as League MVP three times, been a First-Team NHL All-Star eight times and reached the 50-goal mark eight times. He had also been voted to the 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017.

On Jan. 11, 2017, Ovechkin scored twice against the Pittsburgh Penguins to reach and pass the 1,000-point mark, becoming the 84th NHL player to hit the milestone. He was also the fourth player from Russia or the Soviet Union to do so, after Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny and Alex Kovalev. He passed Fedorov, who he grew up admiring and played with early in his career with the Capitals, for the most NHL points by a Russia-born player with an assist on Feb. 5, 2019.

But, perhaps the best moment of Ovechkin’s career came on June 7, 2018, when the Capitals defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to win their first championship since entering the NHL in 1974. Not only was Ovechkin a Stanley Cup champion at last, he was voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after leading all players with 15 postseason goals.

Ovechkin scored two goals against the Calgary Flames on March 8, 2022 to tie Jagr for third most goals scored in NHL history. In that same game, Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom became the ninth set of NHL teammates and first in Capitals history to play 1,000 games together.

Ovechkin passed Jagr for third in NHL goals when he scored his 767th goal against the New York Islanders at Capital One Arena on March 15, 2022. He tied Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history with nine when he scored twice a 4-3 overtime loss to the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on April 21. The 36-year-old became the oldest player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season, surpassing Johnny Bucyk, who was 35 years old when he scored his 50th with the Boston Bruins in 1970-71. He has 22 goals left to score before he passes the late Gordie Howe in most career goals and to sit firmly at the number 2 spot. Hopefully, Ovechkin has enough years in his career left to pass Gretzky’s record. Regardless if he gets the record, his effort already makes him the greatest Russian athlete to ever play the sport, and possibly the greatest Russian athlete in the world.

Evgeni Malkin

Malkin was selected with the No. 2 pick of the 2004 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, after the Washington Capitals selected Alex Ovechkin. Malkin played two more seasons in his native Russia before coming to North America for the 2006-07 season. However, his NHL debut was delayed until Oct. 18, 2006 because of a shoulder injury sustained in training camp, but he scored against future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils in his first NHL game.

Malkin went on to set a modern-day NHL record with at least one goal in the first six games of his career. The only other players to accomplish the feat were Joe Malone and Newsy Lalonde of the Montreal Canadiens and Cy Denneny of the Ottawa Senators, all in 1917-18, the League’s inaugural season.

That was the first of many notable NHL accomplishments for Malkin, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie following a 33-goal, 85-point season. He has won three Stanley Cup championships with the Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017) as well as the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP (2011-12), the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s leading scorer twice (2008-09, 2011-12), the Ted Lindsay Award as the top player in the NHL as selected by the players (2011-12) and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP (2009).

Malkin also has won three gold medals, four silver medals and four bronze medals playing for his country at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, the World Junior Championship and the World Championship.

Malkin has surpassed 100 points in a season three times (2007-08, 2008-09, 2011-12), including an NHL career-high 113 points (35 goals, 78 assists) in 2008-09, and scored 50 goals in 2011-12. He has produced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as well. Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 with a 14-goal, 36-point postseason performance that helped Pittsburgh dethrone the defending champion Detroit Red Wings. He had 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in the 2016 playoffs to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup, then led all scorers in 2017 with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) to help Pittsburgh become the first team to repeat as champion since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

With his recent re-signing to the Penguins for 4 years, Malkin’s career will likely end in Pittsburgh where it started and he can hopefully end it alongside his friend for life and hockey partner, Sidney Crosby who is another NHL superstar in his own right.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov is one of the NHL’s most electric offensive players, as he showed throughout the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, scored one of the biggest goals in Capitals history when he scored in overtime of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Second Round to eliminate the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and move the Capitals into the conference final for the first time since 1998. He followed that with 10 points (four goals and six assists) in seven games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and a four-assist performance in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

In total, Kuznetsov led the NHL with 32 points (12 goals and 20 assists) in 24 playoff games, helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup for the first time since entering the NHL in 1974. He finished second to linemate Alex Ovechkin in voting for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

The Capitals selected Kuznetsov with the 26th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, but he didn’t arrive in Washington until 2014, after he completed a contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he was named an All-Star in 2011-12.

On March 8, 2014, Kuznetsov signed an entry-level contract with the Capitals and made his NHL debut two days later against the Penguins. In his third NHL game, he had three assists in a victory against the Vancouver Canucks, and he scored his first career goal, shorthanded, in the final minute of a 5-4 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 25, 2014.

In his first playoff series in 2015, Kuznetsov scored twice in a Game 5 victory against the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round, then scored the winning goal in Game 7.

Kuznetsov’s breakthrough season came in 2015-16 when he finished tied for ninth in the NHL with 77 points and was fourth with 57 assists. Kuznetsov also finished tied for sixth with a plus-27 rating and played in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game.

He improved on those numbers in 2017-18, finishing with 83 points (27 goals and 56 assists). Kuznetsov scored his 100th NHL goal against the Lightning on March 20, 2019.

Before reaching the NHL, Kuznetsov was a decorated junior player at the international level with Russia, winning a silver medal at the 2009 Under-18 World Championship and a gold (2011) and silver (2012) at the IIHF World Junior Championship. At the 2011 World Junior Championship, he had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in seven games — including three assists in the gold medal game — finished second in scoring and was named to the All-Tournament team. He also won a gold medal at the 2014 IIHF World Championship. Kuzy proving to be one of the best Russians in the league and a great player for the Washington Capitals alongside Ovechkin.

Pavel Datsyuk

Datsyuk, nicknamed the “Magic Man,” was one of the greatest NHL players of all time. Inspiring an adjective with his slick and smooth plays, labeled Datsyukian.

Datsyuk amassed a pile of hardware during his 14 NHL seasons. Most important were the two Stanley Cup championships he won with Detroit in his rookie season, 2001-02, as an up-and-coming player on a star-filled team, and in 2007-08, when he, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall were the Red Wings’ soul.

His play earned him the Selke Trophy three times as the NHL’s best defensive forward, and he won the Lady Byng Trophy four times for sportsmanship, a testament to his ability to play tough but clean.

He twice was among the NHL’s top five scorers, with consecutive 97-point seasons in ’07-08 and ’08-09. In 953 career games, he had 314 goals and 604 assists. He had another 42 goals and 71 assists in 157 playoff games.

But Datsyuk’s brilliance was never about numbers. “He’s a player who probably doesn’t fulfill his offensive potential because he’s so committed defensively,” Holland said in the book “100 Things Red Wings Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Kevin Allen and Bob Duff. “He’s as hard on the backcheck as he is chasing the puck on offense. His hockey IQ is off the charts. He has incredible will and determination. He’s irreplaceable.”

Datsyuk was born July 20, 1978, in the large Soviet Union city of Sverdlovsk, now called Yekaterinburg, about 900 miles east of Moscow. His parents died when he was in his teens and he threw himself into sports, mostly hockey and soccer, playing for various Yekaterinburg clubs. “He learned to anticipate hockey moves by playing chess several hours a week, and he developed outstanding balance and his ability to control pucks with his skates by playing ice soccer,” Brian Cazeneuve wrote in Sports Illustrated.

By 2006, after Steve Yzerman, Fedorov and Larionov left the scene, Datsyuk took a more central role and grew comfortable enough to be a leader in Detroit. His everyday work ethic served as a model for teammates, and his play never failed to amaze. Retiring from hockey in 2022, Pavel Datsyuk’s legacy to the game of hockey will be remembered forever.

Kirill Kaprisov

Kirill Kaprizov, the Russian baby-faced 25 year old, played his first NHL game with the Wild in January 2021, scoring the overtime winning goal against the Los Angeles Kings during his debut. On 21 September 2021, Kirill Kaprizov signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Wild. As a result of the contract, Kaprizov became the highest-paid sophomore player in NHL history. The forward became the first player in NHL history with three points in his first game. He scored his 37th point on April 19th which broke Marian Gaborik’s Wild rookie record of 36 points set in the 2000-01 season.

Prior to joining the NHL, Kaprizov played six seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. His best season was 2019-20 when he led the league with 33 goals and was third with 62 points. He also helped Olympic Athletes of Russia win the gold medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics by scoring five goals, tied with teammate Ilya Kovalchuk and Ryan Donato of the United States for the tournament lead. Kaprisov is an outstanding young player and he hopefully has a long and bright future with the NHL.

Andrei Svechnikov

Selected by the Carolina Hurricanes with the 2nd overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, Svechnikov became the first NHL player born in the 21st Century to score on October 7th of the same year during an 8-5 win against the New York Rangers.

He played most of his first NHL season as an 18-year-old and had 37 points (20 goals and17 assists) in 82 games. He then helped the Canes reach the 2019 Eastern Conference Final with five points (three goals, two assists) in nine playoff games.

Recipient of the Emms Family Award as the Ontario Hockey League’s top rookie in 2017-18, Svechikov scored 72 points (40 goals and 32 assists) in 44 games for Barrie, which selected him with the No. 1 pick of the 2017 Canadian Hockey League import draft.

Svechnikov signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Carolina on July 1, 2018. He is the younger brother of forward Evgeny Svechnikov, a first-round pick (19th overall) by the Detroit Red Wings at the 2015 NHL Draft. Nicknamed “Bird Man” due to his signature arm flapping celly, Svechnikov will hopefully continue to excel throughout his career.

Vladimir Tarasenko

Born in Yaroslavl, Russia, Tarasenko is a player that made the St. Louis Blues the team they are today.

Spectacular skating and puck handling skills and speed have helped Tarasenko earn comparisons to Hockey Hall of Fame center Sergei Fedorov. He wears the number 91 in tribute to his fellow Russian and joined him as a Stanley Cup winner in 2019, scoring 11 goals in 26 games to help the St. Louis Blues win their first championship since entering the NHL in 1967.

Tarasenko made his presence known early on playing for Russia. He scored 8 goals to help Russia finish second at the 2009 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. Two years later, he was named captain when Russia won the IIHF World Junior Championship.

As a 20-year-old in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2011-12, Tarasenko led Sibir Novosibirsk with 38 points (18 goals and 20 assists) in 39 games.

The St. Louis Blues selected Tarasenko in the first round (16th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft and he had a debut to remember on Jan. 19, 2013. He scored on his first two shots against Jimmy Howard and the Detroit Red Wings in a 6-0 victory, joining Doug Palazzari as the only St. Louis players to score twice in their NHL debut. Tarasenko also had five points in his first two games, tying Wayne Babych for the best start to an NHL career by a Blues rookie, and was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January 2013 after leading first-year players in scoring with nine points (five goals and four assists) in seven games.

He had a four-game goal streak from October 5-15, 2013, finished 2013-14 with 43 points (21 goals and 22 assists) in 64 games and scored a team-leading four goals in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. He had a breakout season in 2014-15, finishing with 73 points (37 goals and 36 assists) in 77 games. That included his first NHL hat trick against the Dallas Stars on Oct. 28, 2014, a game he ended by scoring the winning goal in overtime.

Tarasenko got his first Stanley Cup Playoff hat trick against Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild in Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round on April 18, 2015 and scored six goals in the six-game series.

In 2015-16, Tarasenko again led the Blues in goals (40) and points (74), helping them reach the Western Conference Final; he was named an NHL Second-Team All-Star for the second straight year. He led St. Louis with nine goals and tied for the team lead with 15 points in 20 playoff games.

The following season, Tarasenko scored 39 goals, had an NHL career-high 75 points and played in his third straight All-Star Game. He had his fourth consecutive 30-goal season in 2017-18, scoring 33 times and finishing with 66 points, then made it five in a row in 2018-19, again scoring 33 goals and ending with 68 points. Tarasenko also played for Russia at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. His father Andrei Tarasenko scored two goals for Russia at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

Tarasenko became the fifth player in Blues history to score 500 points with the team, joining Bernie Federko, Brett Hull, Brian Sutter and Garry Unger, when he scored twice and had an assist in a 4-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks at Enterprise Center on March 28, 2022. Tarasenko is an outstanding player and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the Hall of Fame down the line.

Nikita Kucherov

From Maykop, Russia, Kucherov has become one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NHL. He had his first 30-goal season in 2015-16, which he got up to 40 goals in 2016-17, and then finished third in the NHL in scoring in 2017-18 with 100 points (39 goals and 61 assists), helping the Lightning win the Atlantic Division. But this was just a prelude to his 2018-19 season, when he led the NHL with 128 points (41 goals and 87 assists), setting a single-season record for points by a Russian-born player. He led all players in scoring during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 34 points (seven goals and 27 assists), helping the Lightning win their first championship since 2004. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Kucherov on the all time goal scorers list by the end of his career.

Goalie Spotlight

Igor Shesterkin

Few goalies in NHL history have made the instant impact Shesterkin did when he came to the New York Rangers midway through the 2019-20 season. The Rangers selected Shesterkin, a Moscow native, in the fourth round (118th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft. Then they waited as he developed into one of the top goalies in the Kontinental Hockey League. From 2016-17 through 2018-19, he was 71-12-10 for SKA St. Petersburg, and in his final season he was 24-4-0 with a 1.11 goals-against average and .953 save percentage. The 2022 Vezina Trophy winner now has a .928 career save percentage and will hopefully hoist the Stanley Cup in following years.

Sergei Bobrovsky

The winner of the Vezina Trophy, given to the top goalie in the NHL, in 2013 and 2017, Bobrovsky was the first goalie in Blue Jackets history to have back-to-back 30-win seasons when he won 32 in 2013-14 and 30 in 2014-15. In 2016-17, he went 41-17-5, setting a Columbus Blue Jackets record for victories, and had seven shutouts. The current Florida Panther ranked among the top 10 in the NHL in wins, save percentage and shutouts in two of his first three seasons in Columbus. He signed a four-year contract Jan. 9, 2015, led the League in 2016-17 with a 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage, and won the Vezina Trophy for the second time.

Andrei Vasilevskiy

One of the greatest goalies in the modern NHL, the 27 year-old Tyumen-born Lightning player made NHL history in 2015 when he got a victory in Game 2 of the Cup Final as a backup against the Blackhawks, becoming the first goalie to earn his first career postseason victory as a backup in the Final since Lester Patrick with the New York Rangers in 1928.

By 2015-16, Vasilevskiy had usurped Bishop as the starter goalie and quickly became one of the NHL’s most reliable goalies. He tied for the League lead in victories (44) in 2017-18, won the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 after going 39-10-4 in 53 games, earned his third straight trip to the NHL All-Star Game in 2020 and led the NHL with 35 wins in 2019-20, when he was a Vezina finalist. He helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in two consecutive seasons (2020-21) and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as the most valuable player of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He ended each series with a shutout and went 16-7 with a 1.90 GAA, .937 save percentage and five shutouts in 23 starts.

Vasilevskiy made 49 saves in a 2-0 win against the Florida Panthers in Game 4 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Second Round to help the Lightning sweep the best-of-7 series and set a new Stanley Cup Playoff record for most in a regulation shutout, passing Thatcher Demko’s 48 for the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 of the 2020 second round. Leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to back-to-back Stanley Cups, Vasilevsky is one of the best Russian-born players in the NHL and will have an outstanding career to prove it.

Despite a rocky history, Soviet hockey gave birth to outstanding Russian players that excel in the Western playing field. Without them, the game we know and love today would be a completely different one. We have these players to thank and look up to as the game progresses and grows through time.



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