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Lightning G Vasilevskiy returns from back surgery to face Hurricanes

Andrei Vasilevskiy - Getty Images Andrei Vasilevskiy - Getty Images

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will return from back surgery and start Friday night’s game at the Carolina Hurricanes.

Coach Jon Cooper announced the decision following the team’s morning skate.

“He hasn’t played an NHL game since April so I know he is eager,” Cooper said. “There is a ton of work (that) has gone in to get him to this spot. He has worked his tail off and this was the date circled on the calendar months ago and we hit the target date.”

Vasilevskiy missed 20 games after undergoing a microdiscectomy to address a lumbar disk herniation two months ago.

The two-time Stanley Cup-winning Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy in 2019 as the league’s top goalie and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2021 as playoff MVP.

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.

Jonas Johansson has filled in as the starter and has an 8-4-5 record.

Backup goaltender Matt Tomkins was assigned to Syracuse of the AHL.