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Ben Bishop continues Vezina-worthy season for the Bolts

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

In the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes on March 19, goaltender Ben Bishop stopped all 32 Coyotes’ shots to record his 15th shutout as a member of the Lightning since coming over from the Ottawa Senators in a trade during the 2013-14 season.

Number 15 had added significance for Bishop, the milestone moving the 29-year-old netminder into first place on the Lightning’s all-time shutouts list, surpassing Stanley Cup-winning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (14 shutouts from 2000-04).

Bishop, in fact, will force a serious rewrite of the Lightning record book following arguably his best season in the National Hockey League.

Consider:

- Bishop collected the most wins in Tampa Bay history six games into the season when he earned No. 84 in a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres (Oct. 17).

- Bishop’s win in Arizona was his 30th of the season, giving him 30 or more wins in three consecutive seasons. Before Bishop’s arrival, only once had a Lightning goaltender (Khabibulin, 2002-03) reached the 30-win mark.

- With his 10th save in Dallas on March 17, Bishop moved ahead of Khabibulin (4,715 saves) into second place on the Bolts’ saves list. Bishop, who has 4,767 saves with the Lightning all-time as of Monday, March 22, needs 193 more to overtake Daren Puppa (4,959) to own that record as well.

Bishop, who will hold nearly every major Lightning goaltending record next season should he continue to play the way he has his first three-and-a-half seasons in Tampa Bay, said he tries not to think about records and accolades too much during the season. His focus is on a return to the Stanley Cup Final this season with, of course, a different outcome this go-round.

“We’ve kind of been in a tight race all season, so there really hasn’t been as much time to sit back and think about (the records),” Bishop said. “Obviously, they’re nice accomplishments, but that’s not really the main goal here. I’m just trying to get as many wins as possible, that’s the only thing I really care about.”

Bishop is making a strong case to become Tampa Bay’s first-ever winner of the Vezina Trophy, given after every season to the NHL’s top goaltender. His goals-against average, at 2.02 right now, has led the league for large portions of the season and currently ranks second in the league. If the season were to end today, Bishop’s GAA would be the best in Lightning history, bettering John Grahame’s 2.06 GAA from the 2003-04 season.

Bishop is also second in the league for save percentage (.928), behind only Brian Elliott of St. Louis (.933). Bishop’s 31 wins as of March 23 are seventh most in the league. Had the Lightning not lost 11 games when Bishop gave up two goals or less, he would be challenging Washington’s Braden Holtby (44) for the league lead for wins too.

“He’s been our rock,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “He’s been the guy when we haven’t necessarily played well who gives us a chance to win every night. When you talk about elite goalies in this league, he’s one of them and that’s what you expect of them. He’s met those expectations and beyond.”

On the flight home from the win in Arizona, Stamkos posted a picture of himself on Twitter from the team plane wearing a Ben Bishop 30 t-shirt.

Bolts center Brian Boyle has donned a Bish Please tee before on flights as well.

Clearly, the Lightning know they’ll only go as far this season as Big Ben will carry them.

Fortunately, Bishop’s 6-foot-7 frame seems fully capable of handling the heavy lifting.

“He’s been our MVP,” Stamkos said. “Obviously a big part of any success we have going on out and into the playoffs is going to be because of Bish.”

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