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Bishop spearheads Lightning 4-1 victory over Florida

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

The last time Tampa Bay Lightning fans saw Ben Bishop, the 6-foot-7 goaltender was doing his best to push aside the pain from an aggravating injury and keep the Bolts Stanley Cup hopes alive during Game 6 in Chicago.

Following the conclusion of the Cup Final, the Bolts losing the series 4-2 to the Blackhawks, Bishop revealed a groin injury forced him to exit Game 3 late, miss Game 4 altogether and limit him for the rest of the series.

In his preseason debut Friday at Amalie Arena, Bishop appeared in mid-season form, blocking all 18 shots the Florida Panthers sent his way and looking comfortable doing so.

He also alleviated any fears that the injury from the Cup Final might be a lingering one in the Lightning’s 4-1 victory over the Panthers, the Bolts first win of the preseason.

“It was fun to be back out there again,” said Bishop, who set a Lightning franchise record with 40 regular season wins in 2014-15. “I’ve been skating here for a month, and it’s nice to have some live action that actually means something.”

Bishop wasn’t tested often. Tampa Bay’s defensemen kept Florida’s attack from ever materializing. The Panthers prime scoring chances were limited.

But Bishop methodically went about his business of keeping Florida off the scoreboard until he was pulled midway through the second period for Kristers Gudlevskis, who finished out the game.

“It was good to see Bish get in there and get his feet wet,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

Earlier Friday, Bishop admitted he still gets pre-game “jitters” before his first appearance of the season, even if it comes in what is, in essence, a meaningless preseason game.

“It’s not like nerves nerves. It’s more just anxiousness,” he said. “But, yeah, the big thing for me is you don’t really want to change your approach. You play a Stanley Cup game, you play a preseason game, you want to play the same way. You don’t want to have to change your mindset.”

Bishop played the same way Friday as he did three months ago in the Stanley Cup Final, but this time with a healthy body.

That’s comforting news for the Lightning, who will need another outstanding season from Big Ben to reach their ultimate goal: the Stanley Cup that eluded them in 2015.

In the preseason game against Florida, the Lightning (1-1-1) scored four consecutive times before Gudlevskis gave up a late, unlucky goal for the 4-1 final.

Nikita Kucherov put the Bolts on the board 12:29 into the opening period. Kucherov’s first goal of the preseason was setup by Matthew Peca, who dangled a Panthers defenseman to get in alone on Florida goalie Al Montoya. The Panthers’ backup to number one Roberto Luongo made the initial stop but couldn’t corral Kucherov’s rebound attempt on the back post.

Erik Condra scored his second goal of the preseason 1:45 into the second period for a 2-0 Lightning lead. Brian Boyle set up Condra for the easy tap-in, using a slick toe drag to get a Panthers defenseman to bite and sprawl out on the ice before maneuvering around the hapless defensemen to find a wide-open Condra at the post.

Condra, the Bolts lone offseason acquisition expected in the opening day lineup, has scored two goals in two preseason games.

“There was a little bit of talk on the bench that he was going to get 82 (goals) this year,” Cooper joked. “The one thing about Condra, just watching these two games, he’s really got a great head for the game. He’s a really smart player. He knows where to be on the ice…He’s played on two different lines, and he’s meshed well with everybody he’s played with.”

Peca carried over his hot play from two nights ago in Nashville, scoring midway through the second to make it 3-0 Tampa Bay. Tic-tac-toe passing from Vladislav Namestnikov to Ryan Callahan to Peca found the Petawawa, Ontario, native all alone on the back door.

Peca finished with a goal and an assist.

“It’s good to get that one out of the way and have a good game and play like you can,” Peca said. “Obviously, it’s going to help (my confidence), and hopefully I can keep that going.”

The Lightning capped a three-goal second period with Kucherov’s second of the night, a backhander set up by Jonathan Drouin and Steven Stamkos for a 4-0 Bolts advantage.

Florida’s lone score came on the power play with 10:55 remaining in the game. Vincent Trocheck’s shot clanged off the post to Gudlevskis’ right and back into the blue paint behind the Lightning goalie. Gudlevskis dropped on his back to try to trap the puck but ended up pushing it over the goal line.

Initially, play was stopped dead on the ice with no goal awarded, but after a minute-long conference between all four officials, the score was counted.

Gudlevskis made 17-of-18 saves in his return from an upper-body injury suffered nearly two weeks ago.

“I kind of felt bad for him on the goal,” Cooper said. “He caught the break with them hitting the post, but I think it hit his backside and rolled in. Other than that, I thought he was solid all over the place. It was good to see.”

The Lightning return to action Saturday, traveling to Dallas to take on the Stars at the American Airlines Center. Game time is set for 8 p.m. (eastern).

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