It wasn’t so much the skill of the New York Rangers that Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop had to deal with Sunday night.
It was the doubts.
And it wasn’t so much the pressure of the moment that Bishop had to put to rest.
It was the questions.
Bishop was bigger than all of them, bigger than the critics and the skeptics and the worriers. On a night when it was easy to wonder about his game, Bishop was a giant on the ice, throwing a shutout at the New York Rangers in a 2-0 victory that brought the Tampa Bay Lightning within one game of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Yeah, he’s resilient enough.
And thanks for asking.
“We knew Ben was going to have to be big for us early and he was,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “We didn’t doubt him a bit.”
Going into the game, it was trendy to question Bishop. At every beach in Tampa Bay, at every bar and every tattoo parlor, there were those who wondered. After all, he had given up 10 goals in his previous two games, and it seemed as if the Rangers had figured him out. In the entire series previous to this one, against Montreal, Bishop had given up only 10 goals total in the six games.
But Lightning coach Jon Cooper, calmly, as is his way, kept pointing out all the times that Bishop had bailed out the Lightning this season with bounce-back performances such as this one. He called the suggestions that he might replace Bishop “asinine” and “preposterous.”
In particular, Bishop had said that he had to be better on the Bolts’ penalty kill. He was. The Lightning was successful in killing four penalties against the Rangers.
“I wasn’t discouraged,” Bishop said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing, but nothing was drastically wrong, I wanted to come out and play the same way.”
But the Lightning was solid in this one, choking off the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. Bishop, with a solid defense in front of him, stopped all 26 shots he faced.
“I would say he looked really confident in the net,” Cooper said. “We’ve watched this in two previous series. As the series have gone on, and the longer they’ve gone on, he’s elevated his game. It’s when he’s back there and you know he’s playing with that confidence, and the way he’s playing the puck. He’s making that first save. He’s not giving up rebounds. He’s just commanding the net.
“We feed off that. We have no doubt how he can play. With four teams that are left, you don’t get here without good goaltending All great goalies are left, and Bish is a top-tier goaltender in this league.”
Tampa Bay didn’t score a lot either, but it got its go-ahead goal from Valterri Filppula in the second period. Defender Anton Stralman made a nice pass, banking it off the left dasher to Steven Stamkos, and then Stamkos found Filppula in the middle of the ice for the goal.
Stamkos added a power play goal on a nice pass from Ondrej Palat with 18:22 gone in the second. It was the fourth straight game in which Stamkos has scored a goal, and he now has 14 points in the last 10 games.
The Lightning has a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for only the second time when it plays host to the Rangers for Game 6 at Amalie Arena on Tuesday.