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Is Lightning rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy ready for big stage?

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What we know for certain is this: Medically speaking, Big Ben Bishop has a boo-boo.

Except for that, things are vague.

We know that Bishop has an owie, because he left the third period of Saturday night’s game twice. Because he didn’t talk after the game, and Bishop always talks. Because Tampa Bay Lighting Jon Cooper sat down in the press conference and immediately said he wasn’t talking about his goaltenders.

With Game Three of the Stanley Cup Finals scheduled for Monday night in Chicago, that puts the status of Bishop — who has started every post-season game for the Bolts — in jeopardy. Which means that 20-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy could start the game.

Against the Blackhawks.

In their building.

In the Stanley Cup Finals?

Cooper was asked Sunday who his goaltender was going to be. He answered flippantly.

“Well, in honor of the 11-year anniversary of our organization’s first Stanley Cup,” Lightning coach Cooper said Sunday, “how would John Tortorella answer that question?”

The old joke is that if he played in the NHL, we still wouldn’t know what killed Abraham Lincoln. There is such mystery to a hockey injury, such misdirection in the way coaches and athletes answer questions. A player has a shoulder injury? “It’s a lower body injury.” He has a knee? “An upper body injury. It is in opposition to the way, say, the NFL has usually addressed injuries on a report, although in recent years, some coaches have made a mockery of the injury list.

Cooper does say have faith if Vasilevskiy has to start.

“The game that sticks out for me, and we ended up losing, was. when we were on the Island,” Cooper said. “We were playing our fifth game in ten nights. It was a tough trip for us. I think Vasi kicked out 40-plus.

“We didn’t have the puck the whole night. We had a 1-0 lead sometime in the third. I don’t remember exactly. We ended up losing the game 2-1, but we should have lost 10-1.

“The building was rocking. It was just a crazy atmosphere. He was unreal. He just played with this unreal calm about himself. That’s kind of when I knew we had something in this kid. Other games, usually he’s come in in tough situations sometimes. He’s had to battle his way through.

“Even in the playoffs, we’ve put him in tough situations. He’s played under some bright lights. He’s World Junior, KHL. These guys are with him more than I am. I’ll tell you, I don’t know if we have a more prepared player in our locker room than that kid. He’s ready to go in at any moment. You got to love that in him. So if Bish can’t go tomorrow, is that a blow to us? Sure it is. But do we think the series is lost because Vasilevskiy is going in? Not a chance.

Lighting captain Steven Stamkos said it is Vaslilevskiy’s work ethic that has won over his team this year.

“No matter what the situation, he seemed to have confidence,” Stamkos said. . I think there’s a correlation with how hard he works in practice and prepares himself. When he gets thrown in these situations, he’s ready.”

He will have to be. The opponent is good. The lights are bright. The stage is big.

How might a rookie measure up?

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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