CHICAGO -- One day soon, after this Stanley Cup Final is in the books, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper will publicly discuss goalie Ben Bishop's mystery injury, which has become the talk of the series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
What Cooper says at that time might make heads turn because this injury, assuming there is one, of course, could very well be severe enough that people will wonder how Bishop could have possibly played through it.
No matter what the reaction will be at that time, it still might pale in comparison to the impression Bishop left on the series in Game 3 on Monday at United Center.
Although it appeared he was even struggling to stand up and move side to side, Bishop somehow put his 6-foot-7 body in front of 36 of Chicago's 38 shots on goal to be the difference in Tampa Bay's 3-2 victory that put them ahead 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.
"I guess he's OK," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
"There was a little bit of a controversy going into tonight," defenseman Victor Hedman added, "but I think he showed how good he was and how healthy he is."
The controversy was over Bishop's availability for Monday. No one can honestly say they knew for sure that he was going to play when they got to the arena for the game.
Bishop twice left Game 2 with a presumed injury, including for good with 7:41 remaining in what was a 4-3 Lightning win. Cooper refused to answer questions about Bishop after the game and was evasive in subsequent press conferences leading up to Game 3.
Bishop skated Monday morning and was the first goalie off the ice, an indication that he would be the starter. But it wasn't until after the morning skate that Cooper had a conversation with the goalie to determine if he thought Bishop was ready to go.
It wasn't until Cooper got to the arena hours before the game that he was sure of it.
"That's the eye test," Cooper said. "You look in the player's eyes and you could see; I knew he was ready. That's when it happened."
"It's going to take a lot not to play in a Stanley Cup Final game, personally," Bishop said.
Cooper stressed that he wasn't going to play Bishop if doing so was putting him in harm's way. Why would he? That would put the Lightning in harm's way too. He trusts backup Andrei Vasilevskiy. He would have played him.
It wasn't a concern when he saw Bishop prior to the game.
"There wasn't a doubt in his eyes," Cooper said. "You can read when guys are sitting there saying, 'Coach, I'll go for you.' Or you can say, 'Give me the net.' That kid said, 'Give me the net.' I knew we were going to be OK."
It was dicey, though, especially in the first period, when it was a Chicago onslaught after Ryan Callahan scored at 5:09 to give Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead. The Blackhawks outshot the Lightning 16-2 and out-attempted them 25-5 in the final 14:51 of the period.
Bishop's lone hiccup was his inability to catch Brad Richards' shot from the blue line on a Chicago power play at 14:22. It wasn't a good goal to give up, but the fact that it was the only one he allowed in the first period speaks to what he was able to do despite clearly being limited.
Was he secure with his rebounds? No. Did he give the Blackhawks second-chance opportunities? Yes. Did he look shaky? Absolutely. But he consistently got in front of the shots and battled enough to make 18 saves in the period.
"His play in that first period was pretty, pretty spectacular," Stamkos said. "That's the game right there. He stood on his head and gave us a chance to hit that reset button. He allowed us to get our legs going, get back to our structure, and the guys responded and fed off of his performance."
Stamkos is right. The Lightning did the best thing they could do in the second period to protect Bishop; they barely let the Blackhawks have the puck.
Chicago had seven shots on goal and one good scoring chance -- Antoine Vermette's breakaway at 5:44, Bishop's 21st save of the game -- in the period. The Lightning outshot the Blackhawks 17-7 and had a 25-12 edge in total shot attempts.
Bishop was tested at the start of the third with the score tied 1-1. He stopped Brandon Saad at the doorstep at 1:14, and covered Andrew Shaw's shot off a 2-on-1 at 2:28. Saad beat him with a blistering one-timer from between the circles at 4:14, but Ondrej Palat scored for the Lightning 13 seconds later.
Bishop made a glove save on Saad's shot from the left circle at 10:13, then held on to Teuvo Teravainen's shot off the rush at 12:49 for his 33rd save. Chicago had one shot on goal after Cedric Paquette gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead at 16:49; it had 12 shots in the period.
"He was huge, great," Callahan said of Bishop. "I think especially in that first period, when they blitzed us pretty good there after our goal, he stood tall. He made some big saves in the third too, a couple 2-on-1s. He's done it all year for us, and it continues."
That it continued in Game 3 might one day soon be looked at as the turning point in this series. Maybe Cooper will also reference that when he talks about Bishop's injury. Maybe it'll be at a Stanley Cup championship parade.
"I know you guys are going to keep speculating, I don't think you'll get an answer until the Final is over," Stamkos said. "But he didn't look hurt to me."
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Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer