Vachon joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1966-67 to back up Gump Worsley and ended up playing the majority of their playoff games when they reached the Stanley Cup finals. Toronto won the Cup, but the diminutive Vachon earned a permanent place in the big league with his excellent play.
In 1967-68 Vachon excelled in 39 regular season contests and shared the Vezina Trophy with teammate Gump Worsley. Their goals-against mark of 2.26 was the league's best since 1958-59. His play contributed significantly to Montreal's consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1968 and 1969. After Worsley suffered a nervous breakdown and moved out of Montreal, Vachon inherited the starting job in the Montreal net. He played well in 1969-70 but the defending champions failed to make the playoffs.
In 1971-72 Vachon requested a trade after he allowed four goals in his only period of action. He was given a new lease on life when the Los Angeles Kings acquired his services in November 1971. He went on to enjoy some of his finest seasons and helped the Kings become a competitive hockey club. He recorded 32 of his 51 career shutouts in Los Angeles and was a two-time selection to the NHL Second All-Star Team. Vachon became the most popular figure in franchise history and was selected the team's most valuable player four times in five years between 1973 and 1977.
The steady Gary Edwards served as Vachon's backup during these years and gave the Kings one of the rosiest goaltending pictures in the NHL. In 1974-75 the Kings set a franchise record with 105 points and a fourth place finish in the NHL's overall standings. That season, Vachon's 1.41 goals-against mark in the first 17 games represented the best start in the league since Jacques Plante's fine beginning in 1957-58. Unfortunately, the team was eliminated in the first round by a Toronto team that underachieved in the regular season. The Kings never did excel in the post-season despite Vachon's brilliance between the pipes. Following that glorious regular season, Bobby Clarke edged out Vachon in the voting for the Hart Trophy.
Vachon's finest hour came as Team Canada's goalie in the inaugural Canada Cup tournament in 1976. Since Ken Dryden and Bernie Parent were unavailable, Vachon, Gerry Cheevers and Glenn Resch were invited to compete for the job. Vachon emerged with the hot hand and played every one of his team's games. His spectacular play helped Canada to the championship and resulted in his selection as the team's most valuable player.
Vachon went on to close out his career with two seasons each in Detroit and Boston. He retired following the 1981-82 season with a career goals-against mark of 2.99. Vachon returned to Los Angeles in 1983-84, where he went on to serve as coach, general manager and chief hockey operating officer. The Kings honored their popular puck stopper by retiring his number in January 1985. He retired as general manager in 1991 but returned to the Kings a short time later as assistant to the club president.