The praise belonged to the other guy.
He had ownership of the doubts.
Forty times, he had won for the Lightning this year. And yet, fans could not remember a one of them. Where was the big moment? Where was the signature win? Where was the evidence that Bishop was as good as the Lightning believed him to be.
Wednesday night, it was there for everyone to see.
Bishop, the goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning, was superb in a 2-0 victory that eliminated the Detroit Red Wings from the NHL Playoffs Wednesday night, serving as a guard dog to the Lightning net. He saved all 31 shots, and he finally gave fans a reason to believe with his first playoff shutout.
Bishop is a tall man by nature, but on this night, his 6-8 frame was bigger than the doubts, bigger than the questions and bigger than the praise the other goalie — Detroit’s Petr Mrazek — had earned in the series. Before Wednesday night, Bishop had won 80 games in two seasons, but fans might have been hard-pressed to name his signature moment. His telling stats, save percentage and goals-against, were both ordinary.
After this game, there is no room for discussion. Bishop kept out light, air and, especially, pucks.
“Bish took command of the game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ve got a seven-game series, and he took command of this game. I think Mrazek has been getting a lot of the press about how he has played in this series, and really no one was talking about Bish. Well, after tonight, we can talk about Bish.”
After this, you can debate whether Bishop is the best Lightning goaltender of all time. Yes, Nikolai Khabibulin is the sentimental choice. He won a Stanley Cup. But Khabibulin won only 28 games that year. Bishop won 40 this year. Throughout the game, Detroit outshot the Lightning, a rare enough occurence. But once Bishop got the go-ahead goal early in the third period, he played as if he was going to make it stand up through the weekend. Even his teammates noticed that Bishop had taken ownership of the game.
“You could just tell,” said the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos. ”He had that confident presence in the net. I know a lot of people were questioning him about this being his first playoffs, and this being his first Game Seven. Well, it’s not anymore. He has a shutout in his first game seven. He’s been arguably the best player for us the last couple of seasons.”
If all the praise of Mrazek had affected him, if the questions from the home fans bothered him, Bishop didn’t let it show. He withstood an early barrage by Detroit, and after two periods, the Wings had outshot Tampa Bay 23-12.
But there was a presence to Bishop in the net. He never seemed flustered, never seemed rattled.
Now, Bishop has to go against the league’s best goaltender in Carey Price, who guards the net for Montreal, the team that swept the Lightning from last year’s playoffs.
As imposing as that might be, it says something that the Lightning at least advanced this time around. Yes, there was some turbulence with two shutouts and being forced to win three of the final four games of the series. But the Lightning found a way.
Talk about unlikely heroes. How about low-scoring Braydon Coburn, a stay-at-home defenseman who would be one of the least likely to star. He had no goals for the Bolts and only one shot in his four regular-season games with Tampa Bay after being obtained in a trade with Phillly.
But in this series, Coburn has been a gunner. He had 17 shots in the first six games of the series, including seven in Game One.
“When that went in,” Cooper said. “I said, ‘Oh wow, what a hell of a trade.”’
“I got a lot of shots this series,” Coburn said. “I’m just glad one of them got behind the goaltender.”
It can be a hard thing, beating the Wings from Hockey Town. This was the 24th straight year that the Wings have made the playoffs. “They went to church” is the way coach Mike Babcock put it. “We must have missed Mass.”