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Will he play or won't he: the ongoing Ben Bishop saga

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop wouldn’t say whether he will be available for tonight’s pivotal Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena.

He did say, however, that he’s feeling better every day.

Bishop took part in the Bolts’ morning skate Saturday morning, his first time on the ice in front of the media since Game 4’s morning skate three days prior. Bishop faced a typical amount of shots and appeared to be moving normally during the roughly 30 minute session.

“There’s progress being made since the beginning,” Bishop said, adding that he hadn’t had a discussion with Lightning head coach Jon Cooper yet about his availability for Game 5.

Cooper, likewise, was noncommittal when asked if Bishop would play.

“I don’t know, to be honest, I didn’t see him since he got off the ice,” Cooper said. “I’m hoping. I hope I have a decision to make between him and Andrei (Vasilevskiy). That’d be great.”

Bishop said that he and the trainers and coaching staff would discuss their options before a decision would be made, most likely well before tonight’s pregame warmup.

“It’s not one person saying one thing,” Cooper said. “It’s a conversation between all the parties and a decision gets made.”

Bishop is 13-9 with a 2.19 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and a league-best three shutouts in 23 playoff appearances. He was forced to leave Game 2 with a mystery ailment, played a full 60 in Game 3 and didn’t see the ice at all in Game 4, Bishop calling it “terrible” having to sit out a Stanley Cup Final contest.

“I was more nervous for that game and not playing than I’ve been for any game,” Bishop said.

Officially, Bishop is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

Bishop said experience will tell him if he’s ready to go tonight.

“You kind of know what you can do,” he said. “It’s a really tough decision obviously this time of year. It’s not about one person when you get this far. You don’t want to hurt the team at all. It’s been a long season. You’ve got this far, and you don’t want to be holding back the team. It’s an extremely tough decision to make, and we’ll talk to coach here in a little bit and make the decision.”

VASY STEPS IN

If Bishop can’t go again tonight, the Lightning have complete confidence in 20-year-old rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 17 of 19 shots in a 2-1 Game 4 loss to the Blackhawks at Chicago’s United Center.

Vasilevskiy, who made his first-ever playoff start in Game 4, is 1-1 with a 3.19 GAA and .895 save percentage. He picked up his debut postseason win in relief of Bishop in Game 2.

“I thought Vasy came in (to Game 4) and did a great job,” Bishop said. “He did everything he needed to do. I thought he played a great game, and we had a chance to win that game. It’s a tough spot to put a kid in like that. I thought you could see why he’s going to be as good as he is.”

On Friday, Vasilevskiy told reporters he enjoys watching Bishop play and has learned a lot from his more experienced teammate.

On Saturday, it was Bishop’s turn to talk about what he’s picked up watching the Russian rookie.

“I remember at the beginning of the year, coming in to watch him play, his post play is unbelievable,” Bishop said. Kind of talking to Frantz (Jean), our goalie coach, saying, ‘How does he do that?’ He couldn’t speak the best English, and it’s gotten a lot better now. You can have a full on conversation no problem…I was in that position at one point. To be able to help the younger guy out, it feels good. You can see the bright future he has, and he’s a good kid.”

Bishop said Vasilevskiy should be more comfortable with his up-in-the-air status for tonight’s game having gone through the experience in Game 4.

“He’s a young kid, but he’s been through a lot,” Bishop said. “…You can see why he’s as good as he is, and I guess he’d be nervous, right? Anybody would be nervous in that case, but I think he did a great job in the last game.”

LIMITING TOEWS, KANE

Jonathan Toews scored Chicago’s opening goal in Game 4, the first time Toews or Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks’ two superstar forwards, got on the scoreboard in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning’s third line of J.T. Brown, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan has done a fantastic job limiting the dynamic duo during the series. Nikita Kucherov said the Bolts aren’t worried about the two possibly picking up momentum going forward after finally getting on the board.

“We don’t look at who scores, who not,” Kucherov said. “We worry about ourselves. We’ve got to score more.”

Kucherov said the Bolts’ game plan tonight remains the same: play smart, sound defense, be patiently offensively and capitalize on opportunities once they present themselves.

“You always worry about your net, and then offense comes,” Kucherov said. “We’ve just got to play our game and keep it simple, play the system.”

Kucherov foresees the veteran Blackhawks coming out strong from the opening puck drop, a team experienced in these situations trying to impose its will on the Stanley Cup Final youngsters. The Lightning have to weather the early storm and not get caught trying to do too much too early.

“You don’t expect an easy game. It’s a Final,” Kucherov said. “You expect hard game and tough and expect they’re going to come hard.”

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