BRANDON, Fla. -- The future of the Tampa Bay Lightning's goaltending situation after this season is unknown, but one thing is clear as they head into the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: This is Ben Bishop's team, so it's his postseason to succeed or fail.
Although the 6-foot-7 Bishop has never played in an NHL playoff game, he's been among the best in the League over the past two regular seasons, winning 77 games with nine shutouts. And although his goals-against average and save percentage numbers slipped slightly, Bishop faced fewer shots on goal this season because of an improved Lightning defense.
Goalie - TBL
GAA: 2.32 | SVP: .916
"I think that's one thing people don't consider when they look at my numbers and see the save percentage numbers are a little lower," Bishop, 28, said. "But last year I was facing 35 shots a game, and this year I've had many games were I faced 20 shots or less. Give up two goals on 19 shots and the save percentage won't look as good, but all that matters to me is the win."
As long as Bishop does enough for the Lightning to win and advance against the Detroit Red Wings in their Eastern Conference First Round series, people will quickly forget that he's a playoff rookie.
The 2013-14 season was supposed to culminate with his first postseason experience, but the Vezina Trophy finalist went down with a dislocated elbow against the Toronto Maple Leafs with three games left in the regular season and could only watch as the Lightning fell in four games to the Montreal Canadiens.
Bishop doesn't like to reflect on the past. He will say it was difficult to watch those playoff games without the ability to help.
"I watched them in every different part of both rinks trying to change the karma," Bishop said. "I moved around, I was pretty antsy, but it didn't work. It's a lot tougher watching than it would be playing, that's for sure."
Bishop doesn't want to talk about his lack of playoff experience. He's quick to point out that he was on the bench with the Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues for playoffs runs so he understands the atmosphere of the playoffs.
"I've been a part of it as a backup twice, so I know what to expect," Bishop said. "I'm trying to keep my preparations consistent and just focus on the first game against the Detroit Red Wings. You don't want to change too much just because it's the playoffs. There's a reason we've been successful this year, and you don't want get too far away from that."
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos says it's Bishop's time to make his mark as a playoff goalie. He expects any nerves to be gone quickly in Game 1 on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, FS-F, FS-D) and says Bishop's familiarity with the Red Wings after going 3-1-0 against them during the regular season should be helpful.
"He knows what he needs to do, and I hope he does look at Thursday like it's just another game," Stamkos said. "At the end of the day, it's still just a game, and things get a little tighter, but once he gets that first couple of minutes under his belt, he'll be into it. He's played this team many times and he's not 19-20 years old; he's been around the League for a while and he's been on some pretty good teams."
There's a greater veteran presence on the Lightning this season and there's little doubt that Bishop has taken on the attitude of guys like Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle, who played in the Stanley Cup Final with the New York Rangers last season. Stralman in particular said that one of the keys to success in the playoffs is not to fall into the trap of adding more pressure than necessary.
Bishop echoes that statement and is willing to argue that the game won't be that much different from his view on the ice.
"It might get tighter and more physical for the players, but it's no different for goalies," Bishop said. "The same guys are shooting at the net, and guys are standing in front of the net every game. The playoffs are the playoffs, but the objective of keeping the puck out of the net doesn't change. I'm trying to stop every puck whether it's the first game of the regular season or Game 1 of the playoffs.
"I'm excited but I'm not going to put any extra pressure on myself. I don't expect every game to be like an oil painting, but I expect to get more comfortable with every game."
A fan of the game, Bishop remembers watching great goaltenders rise to the occasion this time of year. He knows that few things lead to wins in the playoffs more than a hot goalie.
"You always remember seeing guys like [Martin] Brodeur and [Patrick] Roy, and it seemed like they were competing for the Cup every year," Bishop said. "And obviously Detroit was good every year, and they were really good with [Chris] Osgood and sometimes it didn't really matter who was in net, Manny Legace or Mike Vernon. At the end, you only remember the teams and the guys that win the Cup. No one remembers the teams that win a couple of rounds before losing."