The Tampa Bay Lightning returned to the practice ice Friday morning at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum in preparation for Saturday’s Game 5 at Amalie Arena.
One notable absence from practice was goaltender Ben Bishop, who continues to battle a mystery ailment and is day-to-day.
Following practice, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Bishop is improving each day, and the team wouldn’t know whether he can play Game 5 until after Saturday’s morning skate.
“Don’t be alarmed that he’s not out there (for practice),” Cooper said. “I’m not going to sit here and commit to whether he’s going to play Saturday.”
Cooper said once it was determined Bishop would be held out of Game 4, part of the plan was for Bishop to have three days off to, hopefully, speed up his recovery.
Cooper did say Bishop would participate in Saturday’s morning skate.
“If Ben Bishop can play the game, he’s playing,” Cooper replied when asked if he would consider playing Bishop even if he wasn’t quite 100 percent.
Backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy responded well to being thrust into the net for his first-ever playoff start in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Chicago’s United Center.
Vasilevskiy, a 20-year-old rookie, stopped 17-of-19 shots and gave the Lightning a chance to win, which is all you can ask from a goalie who hadn’t made a start since March 31 at Toronto.
“We knew he was going to have a huge game,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “I think you look back from the games where he knew he was going to start, he had that Islanders game he played [when he stopped a Lightning rookie record 45 shots], he was huge. It’s great when you have two goalies and you have so much confidence in both of them. He gives confidence throughout the room.”
Vasilevskiy said he’s had more fun in the last two days than he has all season and felt he played okay versus Chicago in Game 4.
“Just when you play the first game for the last two months and it’s the Stanley Cup Final, it’s a little bit tough,” Vasilevskiy said. “But, overall, I feel good that I was ready for big pressure. I’m okay. My mental, my head was good too.”
Vasilevskiiy said that he doesn’t know yet whether he will start in Game 5, but he has to prepare as if he’s playing no matter what. It’s the same approach he’s had since the playoffs began, when he knew he likely wouldn’t be getting any starts but would have to be ready to go in if something happened to Bishop.
“If Bish plays (Game 5), I’ve still got to be ready too,” he said.
A reporter asked Vasilevskiy if he had any goalie heroes growing up. Vasilevskiy didn’t have an answer initially, then replied: “I learn a lot from Bish. Seriously, I like when he plays.”
BEST OF THREE
With the Stanley Cup Final tied two games all, the best-of-seven series has turned into a best-of-three.
Whichever team wins two of the next three will be able to hold the Stanley Cup triumphantly over their heads in celebration.
The Lightning would seem to have the advantage with two of the possible three games being played at Amalie Arena. But the Bolts have been mediocre at home during the playoffs, going 6-6.
On the road, the Bolts are 8-4, including wins in four of their last five away from Amalie Arena.
“We don’t like to think we change our game on the road or at home,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. “You always want to play the same game. For whatever reason, the results differ, obviously in the playoffs this year. For us, we just try to play the same game no matter what. We don’t try to look at it as a home game or a road game, it’s just us playing a game that we need to play.”
Despite trying circumstances – Bishop’s injury, Steven Stamkos not scoring, the faltering power play – the Lightning have played the Blackhawks to a stalemate through four games and feel a bit unlucky not to have a lead in the series as it shifts back to home ice.
“We like the way we’re playing right now, but at the same time, Chicago’s a great team, so you know they’re going to score goals, you know they’re going to get one so it’s not going to be easy,” Johnson said. “It’s a battle. I feel like the games have had a lot of momentum swings through them, and it’s just what you expect when you have two good teams playing against each other.”
With two days between Game 4 and Game 5, one day to rest completely and one just practice, the Lightning have had a few extra hours to mend any bumps and bruises that have accumulated during the long playoff run.
Killorn said some players appreciate the extra day off while others would rather get right back out on the ice.
“It doesn’t really affect me,” Killorn said. “I know some guys were eager after the game to play. They wanted to get back at it. After you regroup, it’s nice to get a little time off to kind of look things over.”