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Lightning confident in Vasilevskiy if Bishop can't start

by Corey Masisak

CHICAGO -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he doesn't know who is starting goaltender will be for Game 3 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

After first balking at the question, Cooper said at the Lightning's media availability Sunday that he isn't sure if it will be veteran starter Ben Bishop or rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Monday (8 p.m., NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Bishop left Game 2 on Saturday twice because of an undisclosed injury. The first time was a brief absence in the middle of the third period, but then he exited for good with 7:41 remaining. Vasilevskiy made five saves in a 4-3 win.

"No, I don't, which would tell you, if I don't know, that [Bishop] could be available," Cooper said. "You'll have a better indication, I guess, tomorrow at the skate. Although our morning skates are all optional anyway. [Bishop], notoriously he goes on sometimes during them and sometimes he doesn't. I'm sure you'll get a clue then tomorrow."

When Cooper sat down for his session with the assembled media at the Lightning's hotel in Chicago, the first question was about the availability of Bishop. Before any questions the night before, Cooper said he wasn't going to answer any about the goaltending.

He went the humorous route on the first try Sunday.

"Well, in honor of the 11-year anniversary of our organization's first Stanley Cup, how would [ex-Tampa Bay coach] John Tortorella answer that question?" Cooper said.

Bishop is in his second full season as the starter for the Lightning. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, but got hurt before the playoffs started and Tampa Bay was swept in an Eastern Conference First Round series by the Montreal Canadiens.

His numbers slipped this season, from a .924 save percentage to.916 and a 2.23 goals-against average to 2.32. Bishop has a .918 save percentage and a 2.20 GAA in the playoffs, and has been particularly strong in games after losses (7-1, 1.35 GAA, .948 save percentage).

Vasilevskiy, a first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 19), was a star at the IIHF World Junior Championships and a former starting goalie in the Kontinental Hockey League. Vasilevskiy has no starts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he did make 18 with Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL playoffs last spring.

Before this season, rated Vasilevskiy as the No. 7 prospect in the League, and the No. 2 goaltender behind John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks.

Vasilevskiy split time between the American Hockey League and the NHL during the regular season. He has appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times, and now has a win on his resume because he entered with the score 3-3 in Game 2 and the Lightning went on to win 4-3.

"We have full confidence in him," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. "I know a lot of us talked about it [Saturday] night after the game. I think it's helped him that he's been thrown in the fire a little bit in the playoffs. We've been in some tough games where we've left (Bishop) out to dry, giving him a rest, he's come in. He's been in different situations. He had a couple goals scored on him early, didn't rattle him. Like last game, came in, played well, made some saves.

"He's a young kid. Let's not forget, he played in the KHL for a couple years. That's pro experience for him. He showed that since he came over here. Ever since he came over here, he works extremely hard in practice. He's ready. He's a guy that's probably the most prepared out of everybody. He's at the rink 6-8 hours a day preparing. He's waiting for his chance. Whether that's [Monday] or not, he'll be ready."

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