It’s official — Ben Bishop is dealing with an injury. And in typical playoff fashion, the Tampa Bay Lightning are not shedding any more light on the situation.
Bishop mysteriously left Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks 7:17 into the third period but was back in the crease less than two minutes later. The 6-foot-7 netminder’s return was short-lived, as he departed for good with 7:41 remaining, and backup Andrei Vasilevskiy registered his first career postseason win as a result of his being in net when defenseman Jason Garrison scored what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Confusion was running wild at Amalie Arena, with no one quite understanding the development. Not even members of the Lightning.
“No one really knew what was going on,” captain Steven Stamkos told reporters afterward. “We were kind of listening to the (public address) announcements of who was in net for our team a couple times.”
Listed as questionable beforehand, Bishop was back between the pipes for Game 3 and made 36 saves en route to victory. But he did show signs of being injured, favoring the left side of his body at certain points and being slow to get to his feet on several occasions.
Coach Jon Cooper defended his decision of starting his top goaltender after the contest.
“We’re not going to put anybody in a game that is going to be in harm’s way of hurting himself,” he said. “We talked long and hard if he could play. There wasn’t a doubt in his eyes.”
Despite playing the entire contest, Bishop again was deemed questionable for Game 4. The question was answered early in the day on Wednesday, and the 28-year-old spent the evening wearing a suit in the press box.
Vasilevskiy was called upon to make the first Stanley Cup Playoff start of his career after beginning 13 games as a rookie during the regular season. The 20-year-old Russian was backed up by 22-year-old Latvian Kristers Gudlevskis, leaving all spelling-challenged fans at a loss when looking over Tampa Bay’s roster.
Vasilevskiy saw very little action in the first period as Chicago registered a mere two shots on goal. The netminder was busier in the middle session, turning aside 11 of the 12 shots he faced, but he often was a spectator again in the third as the Blackhawks fired five pucks on net.
One of those was a backhander by Brandon Saad at 6:22, a shot from the right doorstep that found its way between Vasilevskiy’s pads. The goal snapped a tie and lifted Chicago to a 2-1 triumph that evened the series at two games apiece.
Vasilevskiy finished with 17 saves but played better than the numbers may indicate. Cooper agreed, citing his team’s lack of production as the reason for the loss.
“If you tell me we’re going to come in and he’s going to give up two goals, that’s a hell of a job in my book,” Cooper told reporters. “That kid gave us a chance to win the hockey game. We just scored one. We’ve got to score more than that. But I thought he was great.”
Even though Vasilevskiy performed well, he will find himself back on the bench as soon as Bishop is ready to return to action. However, no one is sure when that might be — although Cooper is confident it will be soon.
“Bishop’s going to play again in this series, there’s no question,” he said. “I just don’t know which game.”