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Verdi: Lightning sting Blackhawks behind ailing Bishop

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

It always seems to rain late every afternoon in Florida, so Monday’s rush hour cloudburst was Chicago’s way of welcoming that flock of uniformed Tampa Bay Lightning fans to the United Center.

I counted four.

The blue lines were shiny, as was the blue paint in the goal creases. Otherwise, the visiting colors throughout the "Madhouse on Madison" were, shall we say, muted bordering on nonexistent.

The visiting team, that was another matter entirely. The Lightning scored only 13 seconds after falling behind in the third period, then again with 3:11 remaining to sting the Blackhawks, 3-2, and seize a 2-1 lead in this rousing Stanley Cup Final. You are tempted to call it a track meet, except track isn’t this much fun, and field isn’t even close.

By retrieving home ice advantage, the Lighting torched whatever was left of the canard that they somehow are not worthy of being here. They are 8-3 on the road this postseason and still playing because they survived two of the world’s best goalies: Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.

Meanwhile, in Game 3, Tampa Bay’s masked man, Ben Bishop, doused the supposition that he twice excused himself from Game 2 with a simple tummy ache. It was more than that, although the exact nature of “it” is unknown to all but the Lightning.

Jon Cooper, their coach, got on a ladder before the game, gazed into Bishop’s eyes, and saw an ailing competitor who wanted the net, no matter what. Bishop at times reminded us when we try to leave bed in the morning wondering what new and different part of the body will hurt. He’s the tallest netminder in the National Hockey League, but even when he’s on his knees, he’s still Darren Pang. Getting back up after he went down presented a significant problem for Bishop Monday night. Side to side was no cinch, either.

However, even if he wasn’t 100 percent, he was still big and very willing. The Blackhawks nicked him for Brad Richards’ power-play goal in the first period and a blast by Brandon Saad in the third. But, off the ensuing faceoff, the Lightning stormed Corey Crawford, with Ondrej Palat beating him from in close for a 2-2 tie that stunned the audience of 22,336.

Chances on either side abounded because the Lightning and Blackhawks think fast and act fast. What a treat Monday night was, even if Blackhawk fans saw a bit too much of Victor Hedman, the Tampa Bay defenseman who played almost half the game while imposing his talents on both halves of the rink.

Hedman arranged the first goal from deep in his own end, then bulled his way into Chicago territory on the winner. He left a spate of red sweaters in exhaust fumes, then provided the puck for Cedric Paquette, near that aforementioned blue paint. Crawford said he thought he had the situation handled, but Paquette would not take no for an answer.

Tampa Bay, 3-2 at 16:49. The Blackhawks pulled Crawford. The Blackhawks called a time out. The Blackhawks launched the rest of their 38 shots. But they still lost only their second home date of the playoffs, and if they want positives, there are possibilities. The Blackhawks have a rather good record when falling behind 2-1 in recent playoff series. Also, Johnny Oduya, who vanished shortly after being fouled by Nikita Kucherov midway in the second, came back in the third period to rejoin a defense corps that included Trevor van Riemsdyk.

“Tough loss,” groused Head Coach Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks killed 1:26 of a 3-on-5 when it was still 1-1. He often says that a team failing to feast on a two-man advantage is destined to make consolation speeches. A loud crowd, thick with standees, wished as much too. Then, when Saad finished off a pattern with Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith assisting, fans were sure momentum had shifted. Poof. It lasted 13 seconds.

Hedman announced his intent to be a troublesome guest in the first period. From deep in the Lightning’s end, he threaded a 100-foot plus pass to Ryan Callahan, whose bullet passed Crawford’s glove, short side. That aroused the Blackhawks, who would wind up with 19 shots, not counting open net misses by Hossa (while being tripped) and Teuvo Teravainen. With Tampa Bay’s penalty killers gasping for air, Andrew Shaw helped keep the puck in, then swung around to say hello to Bishop while Richards made it 1-1.

Paquette is the occasional shadow cited by Jonathan Toews for chirping a bit. Now Paquette has a huge goal on his resume. Otherwise, villains have been scarce in this Final, especially after two weeks around Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler. Bishop? Not really, unless you stretch it. He debuted with the St. Louis Blues, and was born in St. Louis, but that was 28 years ago, beyond the statute of limitations.

The Lightning might have identified their public enemy No. 1 in Shaw. He certainly hopes so. That’s his style. He’s plays hungry, not that we believe he actually bit Hedman in Game 1. There was visual proof when Mike Tyson nibbled on Evander Holyfield’s ears during their 1997 heavyweight championship fight. Now, wouldn’t you know it, Tyson is a vegetarian.

Van Riemsdyk’s nine or so minutes of steady stuff Monday night add symmetry to his unlikely story. He was preparing to pursue a finance degree when he attended the 2009 Chicago Showcase at The Edge in Bensenville. It was tantamount to a clearing house for players who had not attracted much interest from colleges, let alone professional bird dogs.

“It was like Trevor’s last hurrah,” said Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks’ vice president/general manager. TVR opened some eyes at the camp, and Bowman kept track of him, had lunch with him, signed him. It was another great catch by Bowman, but that’s what he does. After last Wednesday’s victory in Game 1 at Tampa, did Bowman go to the beach? No, he went to Buffalo, for the NHL Scouting Combine.

When van Riemsdyk showed up at training camp last September, there wasn’t exactly a “no vacancy” sign posted on the door. The Blackhawks’ defense appeared to be a closed shop. But TVR impressed Quenneville and staff with his poise and savvy enough to make the opening night roster. Van Riemsdyk played big minutes over 18 games before a puck fractured his left patella.

He had not played in the NHL since, and his rehabilitation was curtailed by a wrist injury while with the Rockford IceHogs. TVR had surgery two months ago, began skating three weeks ago, and is the last guy from whom you will ever hear a woe-is-me tale. Van Riemsdyk shall not require a facelift in his dotage, for at age 23, he already has a permanent smile.

“Excited more than nervous,” said TVR after Monday night. He roots intently for the New York Jets, yet still seems always happy.

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