He was the last guy on the ice that Ben Bishop was worried about.
After all, he is one of the good guys. Most nights, Bishop has no greater ally on the Tampa Bay Lightning than Victor Hedman, the big defenseman of the Lightning. Most nights, he’s the guy who clears out trouble.
But this time, it was Hedman who was bearing down on Bishop. He did not see him, and he could not hear him as Bishop yelled. The two crashed together, both men flopping to the ice. The puck skittered between Bishop’s legs, and was calmly picked up by Patrick Sharp, who scored a goal as easy as an empty-netter.
And just like that, the Chicago Blackhawks were off and running.
It wound up 2-1, but in hindsight, it is easy to put this game on two plays. The first was the collision between Bishop and Hedman. The second was a bouncing puck that Nikita Kucherov pounced on, but missed just wide of Corey Crawford. Kucherov crashed into the goal post on the play, knocking him out of the game.
“He’s a point-a-game guy in the playoffs,” Lighting coach Jon Cooper said. “When goals are at premium, it’s tough to lose one of your guys.”
Tough, too, when the Bolts are struggling to score so badly. Steven Stamkos hasn’t scored a goal in seven games. Tyler Johnson has one in his last nine. Kucherov now has one in his last seven. No offense to Valterri Filppula, but he isn’t built to carry a team’s scoring.
It had been a tough enough week for Bishop, who has suffered a mysterious injury that his team will not identify, and who missed Game 4, and who had to avoid questions of when he would play next, and who had to deal with the Blackhawks.
It was in a Saturday morning conversation between Bishop and Cooper that it was decided that Bishop would start. But suddenly, it wasn’t about the acrobatics Bishop preformed in the net. It was about his cartoonish collision with Hedman.
“I saw the puck coming off the boards,” Bishop said, “And I thought I could get it to Stammer (Stamkos). I saw Heddy, but I guess he didn’t see me. I yelled, but you can’t hear anything in there. I guess I should just let him play the puck.
“I can’t remember the last time we played that. Looking back, I probably came out too far.”
“If I was aware of him, I would’ve seen him,’’ said Hedman, who whiffed trying to clear the puck before the collision. “I didn’t see him and I didn’t hear him.’’
Cooper called it a “one-in-a-million” play.
“I thought he was terrific,” Cooper said. “He gave us a chance to win the game.”
The Blackhawks got the winner early in the third period when Antoine Vermette stuck a rebound past Bishop, who said he was sprayed with ice on the play.
“We had to win one more game anyway,” Bishop said. “We just put a little more pressure on us. We’ll try to go up there and win and then move on and see what happens.”
Cooper compared this to the first round of the playoffs, when the Bolts trailed the Detroit Red Wings three games to two. “We’ve gone from an inexperienced playoff team to an experienced playoff team. We’ve been in this situation.”
The Lightning will try to stave off elimination Monday night in Chicago.