Wednesday, 4 a.m.
For a night, he was Ben Bishop again.
For a night, they were the Tampa Bay Lightning again.
For a night, the trade rumors were quiet, and the player and the team were propping each other again, and there were possibilities for the team. For a night, and perhaps it won't last much longer, the Lightning made you think that maybe they could pull this playoff out of the fire, after all.
Okay, okay. The odds remain staggering against the Lightning, who remain in last place in the Atlantic Division. On the other hand, the Bolts are only six points out of third
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place. If the Bolts can play the way they did on Thursday night in a 5-0 victory over the tired Los Angeles Kings (three games in four nights), they could become interesting again..
This Lightning team was finally a focused team. An interested team. A hungry team. You haven't been able to say that for most of the season as Tampa Bay has spun its wheels. Heck, it was the team's first two-game winning streak since December 20th and 22nd.
Start with Bishop, the team's all-time leader in wins by a goalie. Going into Tuesday night's game, he was 27th in the NHL in the category, and he had had a thoroughly pedestrian season as he read the rumors that he was about to get traded. He is only 33rd in save percentage.
In the time he has spent looking over his shoulder, a lot of pucks have whizzed past. For an elite goalie, he has been a very tall disappointment.
But Tuesday night, Bishop made you remember the way he used to play. He swallowed 19 shots in the first period when the Kings carried play, and he allowed Tampa Bay to leave with a 1-0 lead that seemed wrapped in a four-leaf clover.
"Bish played extremely well in the first period when we needed him," coach Jon Cooper said. "To look up at the shot clock and see we’ve given up 19 shots and, I don’t know, we had six or something like that. We felt extremely fortunate to come to the room with the lead.
"Clearly Ben Bishop had a big part of that, but then, once that happened, we gave up nine shots the rest of the game. That’s the team helping each other out. Ben bailed us out in the first and the team said, “Ben we’re not going to try and need you here in the last few periods,” and that’s how it went. It seemed like a few times this year if the goalie played well, we couldn’t score. If we were scoring, we maybe weren’t playing that great defensively. But in all facets of the game tonight, the keys, we played well defensively for the most part. Our goaltender looked great and our penalty kill was strong. Usually those add up to favorable results.”
After that, the defense stood up, and the Bolts – whose first period goal was from Jonathan Drouin – got two goals from Nikita Kucherov, one on a breakaway when Vlad Namestikov found him streaking down the ice. Gabriel Dumont and Braydon Coburn added goals for the Lightning.
For the Bolts to get back into the race — and they aren't as far back as they have played — will take a streak. That's been the missing part of this team for the season. It needs a strong goaltender, and it needs to make sure it scores more than twice a night.
If that can happen, then perhaps you can see a toe twitch. Perhaps this team has a pulse after all.
Of course, the Lightning will have to prove it, won't it. It will have to be the hot team in the logjam that is the wild card race.
Bishop? He's the best shot at salvaging the season. Kucherov? He needs to be a great player down the stretch. Drouin? He has some growing up to do. Stamkos? Get well fast.
Is it possible? We'll see. The Lightning has been a bit of a mess all season, running in place, following impressive wins with four-game losing streaks.
Still, this team has 28 games left, and enough talent to pull this out of the fire.