There for a while, he was Patrick Roy.
For all of the adjectives spent on the magnificent Triplets, for all of the prose pointed at the great Tyler Johnson, he was the constant of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They would point Ben Bishop toward the net, and he would turn into Martin Brodeur. Or maybe Dominic Hasik. Or Terry Sawchuk.
There was something smothering about Bishop, who seemed to fill the open spots between the pipes just fine. He was solid. He was bulletproof.
And, suddenly, at the worst possible time against the New York Rangers, he is not.
In two games, Bishop has now given up 10 goals – as many as he gave up in the entire series against the Montreal Canadiens – and just like that, the Bolts seem vulnerable once again. Five in a victory on Wednesday night. Five more in a loss Friday night.
And, as quick as you can light a lamp, the Eastern Conference Finals are tied 2-2. It is a best of three series, and if it goes that far, two of the remaining three games would be in New York.
Bishop, who had 146 saves in that series against Montreal, suddenly has a hole in his glove. He gave up five goals against the Rangers on only 24 shots Friday night after giving up five on only 28 the game before. Suddenly, the guy who outplayed Carey Price head-to-head seems a little wobbly. For that matter, so do the Lightning.
The Lightning was actually cruising along fairly well late in the second period. Steven Stamkos had scored to tie the game at 1, and the Bolts looked to be in good shape.
That’s when the Rangers’ Chris Kriedler scored, and then Keith Yandle caromed one off the leg of Victor Hedman and into the goal. And a period in which the Lightning outshot the Rangers 19-6 had cost Tampa Bay the lead
“I thought for 45 minutes, we did everything but put the puck in the net, and we had some really good looks,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “It’s tough to have a period like we did in the second period. Nine times out of 10, you’re coming out with the lead probably by multiple goals. Instead you come out of that, like you lose the period. It doesn’t happen very often.”
The third period was all Rangers, however. Marty St. Louis – yeah, him – scored his first playoff goal, and then Rick Nash – who had also scored early – tapped one in to make the final score seem like a route.
“I don’t think we can put any goals on him (Bishop) tonight,” said defenseman Anton Stralmahn. “He did his job back there. We gave up some really good chances. I think we can clean up in front of him a little better. I think that’s key.”
Bishop said he would “absolutely” rebound for Game Five.
“You don’t want to give up five in back to back games,” Bishop said.”This could have been a different result. But there are a couple of saves I’d like to make. “It’s a long season, and you have to move on.”
To be fair, all of the goals were not Bishop’s fault. Nash scored on a breakaway in the first. Yandle banged one off Hedman’s leg. St. Louis scored on a cross-ice pass when Bishop was struggling to get back.
In the last two games, however, the net suddenly seems wider, and the Rangers – who have nine players older than 30 – suddenly seem younger.
“We have to respond,” said Stamkos, the Lightning captain. “From Bish on out, myself included. We all have to be better next game. It’s 2-2. It’s best two out of three now, and we have to win one on the road.”
Cooper lamented the missed chances by the Bolts.
“People are going to wake up in the morning and look at the box score and say, oh, wow, Tampa got waxed,” Cooper said. “ But I think if you were in the building, you probably wouldn’t see it that way.
“We had our looks. I don’t know. Could you ask for anything more in the first five minutes than to have Kucherov and Johnson by themselves in front of the net? One we blow wide and one we hit off the cross bar, and things like that happen. It’s how you respond, and I thought we responded extremely well.”
Game Five will be in New York’s Madison Square Garden Sunday. Game Six will be in Tampa on Tuesday.