Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop has given up 10 goals over his past two games, the most he’s allowed in back-to-back starts all season.
But the Lightning aren’t concerned what kind of performance they’re going to get from their back stop going forward in the Eastern Conference Final.
Quite the opposite really.
Before the Lightning boarded their plane for New York Saturday afternoon, head coach Jon Cooper and three players met with the media. Asked whether he might bench Bishop in favor of rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy for Game 5, Cooper called the question “asinine.”
“I just don’t think you get here to this point in the season, even into the playoffs, without having a goaltender, a guy that bails you out when you need to be bailed out,” Cooper said. “Ben Bishop has bailed us out so many times. Have we bailed him out? Sure we have sometimes. But for the most part, Bish has been rock solid for us, and especially for a kid that’s not played a NHL playoff game before, there’s a brighter light on him and all he’s done is pass every test that gets sent his way.”
During the 2015 postseason, Bishop has responded well following poor performances. After giving up four goals in a Game 5 shutout via the Detroit Red Wings in the First Round, Bishop played two of his best games of the season in a pair of elimination games to carry the Lightning to the series win.
After Montreal scored six goals on him in Game 4, Bishop limited the Canadiens to just three scores over the next two matches.
The Lightning are hoping for a repeat bounce back in Sunday’s ECF Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
“I think he’s been great for us all year,” Lightning center Valtteri Filppula said. “I think a lot of those goals, they bounced off someone. There’s not a whole lot he could have done. I think he’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re here right now, so I have a lot of confidence in him.”
The Lightning as a team have generally put together quality performances following games in which they’ve lost by multiple goals.
The Bolts were the only team in the NHL not to have lost three consecutive games, which alludes to the team’s consistency all season.
“If you think about the history of our team I guess since our band’s been together the last two years, we’ve had pretty good responses after we’ve lost games,” Cooper said. “And I’m not sitting here saying we’re playing poorly because I don’t think we’re playing poorly. Do we have some things we have to tighten up? Yes. But give the Rangers credit, they’re making us do things that are probably a little bit outside of our comfort zone, and they’ve got a lot of really good players over there.”
Playing better in Game 5 will require the Lightning to plug the leaks that have sprung of late in their defense.
“I think there’s probably a few things we can do better defensively,” Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison said. “We’ve obviously got to limit their scoring chances. They seem to get a couple breaks on the rush, and they’re using their speed. I think we can start from there and tighten things up in the neutral zone and not give those chances up.”
Cooper said he was encouraged by his team’s demeanor in the locker room following Friday’s Game 5 loss.
“We’ve been a pretty good bounce-back team, and we’ve had a fairly good history of bouncing back after losses,” Cooper said. “I know when we spoke after the game yesterday, our guys had a determined look in their face. They know that the series wasn’t going to be a sweep. Now it’s down to a best-of-three.
Lightning defenseman Matt Carle is recovering well after suffering an undisclosed injury midway through the first period of Game 3. Carle was forced to sit for 50-plus minutes of Game 3 and was a scratch for Game 4.
Carle could return to the ice for Game 5 Cooper said.
“He’s improving, so we’ll see,” Cooper said. “I guess there’s always a chance.”
Carle’s absence limits the Lightning’s ability to play 11 forwards and seven defensemen, an alignment that’s served them well during the playoffs. Entering Game 4, the Lightning were 6-1 going 11/7.
Tampa Bay used Mark Barberio for the first time this postseason in Carle’s Game 4 absence to continue going 11/7, but the rotation wasn’t as effective as it was in Game 2 and Game 3 ECF victories.