As ever, the Lightning’s best hope is goalie Bishop

by Gary Shelton on April 21, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Bishop instills the rest of the Lightning team with confidence./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Bishop instills the rest of the Lightning team with confidence./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Thursday, 6 a.m.

On the Tampa Bay Lightning, hope wears a mask.

Don't most superheroes?

He is a large man, and when he bends, he fills the net. That's the point. He does not allow light. He does not allow air. He does not allow possibilities.

He is a man of intense focus. That's another part. Most of all, he is a competitor, a man whose job is to let pucks bounce off of his face if that's what it takes.

He is Ben Bishop.

And all he means is everything.

In the first four games of the Lightning's playoff series with Detroit, there have been a few heroes. There is Victor Hedman, who

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Bishiop keeps winning for the Lightning./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Bishop keeps winning for the Lightning./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

skates a half hour a night. There is Nikita Kucherov, who has scored five times. There is Tyler Johnson, who has seven points. There is Alex Killorn, who scored the final goal in the first two games. There is the penalty kill and the power play.

Most of all, there is Bishop, the calm, crouching goaltender who keeps everything within reach.

So far, he has given up two goals a game...but only two. In three games, the Lightning offense was better than that. In one, they were not. But Bishop has given them a chance. He has faced 126 shots in this series. He has stopped 118 of them. He has made twisting saves, stretching saves, saves when opponents were in his lap.

And now, he must do it again,

This is the way the Lightning works. It starts with Bishop, with the belief that he will do his part, with the faith that he will shine, with the conviction that he will be the team's best player. It is Bishop that keeps this team alive, Bishop who plugs in the electricity. And shame on you if you ever forget.

“You look at the top goaltenders in the league — the way Montreal plays in front of Carey Price or the way the Rangers play in front of Henrik Lundqvist,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Teams play a little looser and a little more aggressive because you know what’s behind you. It’s the confidence level of having someone like that behind you.’’

Okay, okay. If you want, you can get fooled by Bishop's statistics. He has lost 21 times this year, most of them on those nights he could have sued for non-support. The better stat? He has started 65 games this year; he has held opponents to two goals or less 46 times.

The best stat? He has won 38 times this season. Over the last three years, counting playoffs, he has won 128 games.

Any questions?

This year, Bishop led the league in goals against. He was second in save percentage. Nationally, however, does the casual fan regard him as highly as they should?

“Most people in our market get to see us every night,” Cooper said. “In the playoffs, everyone on a national level sees us. There will be more and more appreciation for Bish with the body of work he's put forth. There is no way that's going to go unnoticed.”

For a hockey player, a good goaltender is a safety net. He is house money. You can play with the confidence that if things break down, he can pick a team up.

Bishop has been on of the league's best goaltenders.

Bishop has been one of the league's best goaltenders.

“He’s been great for us,’’ winger Alex Killorn said on Wednesday. “When you have a guy like Ben back there that you know is very reliable, you know he’s going to show up. So, if you do your end, things are usually going to turn out well. He’s our MVP, for sure, this season.’’

It's an old argument. What is the key position in all sports? The quarterback? Perhaps, with the NFL rule changes. A starting pitcher? No, they go only every five days. A goalie? Perhaps. A team might have an edge everywhere else on ice. A goalie is the great equalizer.

Tonight, it will be the same. The Red Wings are going to a desperate, feisty team willing to leave blood on the ice. They will throw all the fastballs they have at the net.

If Bishop can keep things calm, then the Bolts have a nice shot and ending things.

He’s obviously one of the best goalies in the league,’’ defenseman Andrej Sustr said, “and he gives us a chance to win every night. He makes the key saves at the key moments.’’

Hint: Tonight is kind of a key  moment, too.

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