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Ben Bishop makes return to Amalie Arena

The Bolts' former netminder faces his former team for the first time

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Ben Bishop owns Tampa Bay Lightning franchise records for nearly every important goaltending statistic.

Most wins all time in Lightning history?

Bishop (131)

Most saves?

Bishop (5,728)

Top save percentage? Goals-against average?

Check (.921) and check (2.28)

Video: TBL@BUF: Bishop dives back to net to rob Okposo

But when Tampa Bay hosts the Dallas Stars tonight at AMALIE Arena, Bishop will be in an unfamiliar spot guarding the visiting team goal. For as many highlights as Bishop produced during his five seasons in Tampa Bay, no doubt a few of those moments will creep into his head as he scans the arena from the opposing net. The 2015 Stanley Cup Final banner that hangs from the rafters is there partly due to Bishop's stellar play that season. Likewise the 2016 Eastern Conference Final banner next to it is a direct result of Bishop's Vezina-worthy performances in 2015-16.

"I met my wife here, got married here. It's kind of like a second home," Bishop said Wednesday following Dallas' practice at AMALIE Arena. "There's a lot of good memories here. I love this city. I have a lot of good friends around here, so it's good to be back."

In the Lightning net will be his understudy the previous three seasons, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has taken the job as the Bolts' No. 1 netminder and ran with it. Since the trade of Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings prior to last season's trade deadline, Vasilevskiy is 25-5-3, the 25 wins four more than any other goalie in the League.

"I'm so happy for him right now, proud of him," Bishop said of Vasilevskiy's success. "He's kind of like a little brother almost. It's fun to see him doing so well. To think that he'd be 13-1 right now, I don't know if I saw that coming. But he's worked so hard to get here. It's good to see that work pay off. He definitely deserves it. He's always been one of the hardest working guys I've met. He was a good listener too. He wanted to learn. He was always asking questions and things like that. It's fun to see him doing this well. I think people are surprised around the league, but anybody that's known him the last couple years isn't surprised. You could see this coming. I'm really happy for him."

Bishop has played a major role in Vasilevskiy's current success and development, even as the Russian netminder was drafted and brought in with the intent of eventually replacing Bishop. The two became fast friends, despite the language barrier. Bishop showed Vasilevskiy how to be a pro in the NHL, how to prepare night in and night out as a team's No. 1 netminder and the nuances of playing the North American game that Vasilevskiy was unfamiliar with.

Vasilevskiy, to his credit, absorbed everything Bishop taught him, eager to learn from one of the League's best.

"Vasilevskiy came in, especially someone that's coming from another country, and he had all the tools, it's just learning the League," head coach Jon Cooper said following the Bolts' morning skate on Thursday. "And Bish had been obviously around the block a little bit. Bish was extremely welcoming to him. Some of the things Bish is really good at, i.e. playing the puck, he really helped Vasilevskiy in that regard. He kind of pushed Vasy in that area. Vasy was a little bit of a sponge all the time when he was around Bish. They had a great relationship."

Cooper too owes a part of his success as a head coach in the NHL to Bishop's steadying presence in a Lightning net where few goaltenders had found sustained prosperity prior to Bishop's arrival. Cooper was asked what it would be like to see Bishop across the way, and he admitted it could be a bit weird.

Video: Head Coach Cooper on facing Bishop and Dallas

"It's not any secret of how much Ben Bishop has meant to this organization and myself personally," Cooper said. "This is my fifth season with the team, and if you look at the strides we've taken as an organization in that short time, you've got to put Ben at the top of the list of guys that had a major impact in a positive way with us. I'm a Ben Bishop fan. Everyone in our locker room is. We cheer for him, just not (Thursday) night."

Wednesday, in the AMALIE Arena hallway between the Lightning locker room and the opposing team tunnel, Bolts captain Steven Stamkos and Bishop met, the two sharing stories about their respective seasons and how each was doing personally. Later, Stamkos reflected on what Bishop meant to the Lightning organization.

He was a huge part of the success we've had here in the past four, five seasons. Everyone knows that," Stamkos said. "He was a great guy in the room, still a close friend to a lot of us. It's going to be a little weird. I just got a chance to say hi to him out there, and he's doing great. But once that puck drops we're going to try to, just like every time in practice, I'm going to try to score as many goals and we're going to try to score as many goals as we can. He meant so much to this community. Hopefully he gets the reception he deserves."

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