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Bolts’ Ben Bishop guts one out with 36 saves in playoffs

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Not playing would have hurt him more than giving it a go.

And so Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lighting strapped on his pads, and he limped toward the ice. There were times he looked to be in pain, other times in mere discomfort. But in the end, it was the Chicago Blackhawks who were in agony. And for Bishop, that was the finest relief of all.

This is the one they will remember Bishop for, not his excellence against the Rangers or in the finale against the Red Wings. Not for all the wins or all the saves or all the pucks held out of the net. This game, when Bishop was getting by on guts and determination, will be the one they talk about it when they talk about these playoffs.

From the looks of it, they may be happy takes. The Lightning took a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals by beating the Blackhawks 3-2 at the United Center. Bishop had 36 saves in the game.

“Coach (John Cooper) and I talked a few times today.  We made a decision there before the game.  It’s going to take a lot not to play in a Stanley Cup Final game personally.”

Since the end of Game 2, Bishop’s health had been discussed. But Cooper said that conversations with Bishop left no doubt who his goaltender would be.

“I talked to him,” Cooper said. “We’re not going to put anyone in harm’s way. There was not a doubt in his eyes. Some guys say ‘OK, I’ll go for you’ and some say ‘give me the net.’ That kid said “give me the net’ and I knew he was going to be OK.”

Other Lightning players were fine, too, if you’re asking. Cedric Paquette scored the winning goal on a brilliant pass from Victor Hedman. Ondrej Palat scored the goal that tied it 2-2 only 13 seconds after Chicago had taken a 2-1 lead. Ryan Callahan had a blistering shot for the team’s first goal.

The most eye-catching of the bunch was Hedman, the tall, fluid defenseman who can be overlooked on team that led the league in goals this year.

“Victor Hedman, what he’s doing, I mean, this is clearly his coming-out party,” Cooper said. “He sets that one up and then makes a big-time play on the winner. He was a monster out there tonight.

“I think just the way we play the game and our structure is kind of tailor-made for him. He’s got pretty much free rein with me. He’s got my trust. Just the plays he makes, it’s fun to watch. He’s a fun player to watch. He’s really grown into that role. It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived.”

The Lightning started the game well, taking a 1-0 lead on a blistering shot by Callahan. After that, however, the Blackhawks took over the game, and by the end of the first period, they held a 19-4 shot advantage. There were moments it was as if the teams were playing a half-ice game, and the Lightning was just holding on. At one point, Tampa Bay went 13 minutes without a shot.

Former Lightning star Brad Richards tied the score at 1-1 in the first on a shot that popped out of Bishop’s glove. Brandon Saad gave Chicago a 2-1 lead early in the third period.

The Lightning regained the home ice advantage with the victory, and could move within one game of winning the Stanley Cup when the teams play again Wednesday night. Since 1930, the team that has won Game Three after the first two games were split has won the series 21 out of 26 times.

The Lightning has been a better hockey team on the road in the post-season, more focused and crisp. But the Blackhawks are 7-2 at home.

If the Bolts win on Wednesday night, they could win the Cup at home on Saturday night.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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