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Lightning goaltender Bishop possible for Game 5

by Corey Masisak

BRANDON, Fla. -- Goaltender Ben Bishop did not practice Friday for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his status for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final remains uncertain.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday that Bishop will be evaluated Saturday morning before a decision is made for Game 5 at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2. Game 6 is Monday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Cooper said that Bishop's absence from practice was planned when the decision was made to remove him from the lineup for Game 4 on Wednesday.

"Don't be alarmed that he's not out there," Cooper said. "I'm not going to sit here and commit as to whether he's going to play Saturday. He's feeling better with each day. When we made the decision not to play him the other night, the decision just wasn't made, oh, we're not going to play him. It's, 'We're not playing you and you're taking the next three days off.' This was all in the plan."

Bishop left Game 2 and did not play in Game 4. He stopped 36 of 38 shots in Game 3, but noticeably lacked mobility and did not leave the crease to play the puck with his normal frequency.

"I don't know sitting here today if Ben Bishop is playing on Saturday," Cooper said. "I hope he plays. I don't know if he's going to. He's got to get back on the ice. If he's not in the pregame skate tomorrow that's a pretty good indication of whether he's going to play or not."

Cooper said after Game 4 that Bishop will play again in the Cup Final, but he wasn’t certain in what game.

Rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy replaced Bishop in Game 2 and made five saves in the final 7:41 for his first Stanley Cup Playoffs victory. Vasilevskiy, 20, made 17 saves in a 2-1 loss in Game 4, his first NHL postseason start.

"I think [I played] well," Vasilevskiy said of Game 4. "When you play your first game for last two months and in Stanley Cup Final, it's a little bit tough. But overall I feel good. I was ready for big pressure on me. I'm OK. Just mentally in my head [it] was good too."

Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis, who backed up Vasilevskiy in Game 4, were on the ice for practice Friday at Brandon Ice Sports Forum.

A first-round pick at the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 19), Vasilevskiy was 7-5-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 16 regular-season games this season.

He split the season between the Lightning and Syracuse of the American Hockey League, but became Bishop's full-time backup when veteran Evgeni Nabokov was placed on waivers in February.

"[Vasilevskiy] showed maturity well beyond his years, not only as a person but as a player in this League," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. "We saw his first start he has that confidence. So we'll see what happens tomorrow. But we think he answered any questions about ability."

Game 4 may have been Vasilevskiy's first start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he has lots of experience in important games.

Vasilevskiy played for Russia three times at the IIHF World Junior Championship. He had a .933 save percentage or better in each of the tournaments and won a medal each time. His best performance was 2012 when he had a tournament-best .953 save percentage while helping Russia win the silver medal. He helped Russia win the bronze medal in 2013 and 2014.

He also was the starting goaltender for Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League as a 19-year-old last season. Vasilevskiy helped Ufa to the conference finals in the KHL playoffs with a .934 save percentage and a 1.99 goals-against average in 18 postseason games.

Prior to this season Vasilevskiy was the No. 7-ranked prospect in's Top 60 prospects, and the No. 2-rated goaltender, behind John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks.

Bishop is in his second full season as the No. 1 goaltender for the Lightning. He was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14.

"We're going to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win the game, whoever that guy is," Cooper said. "Is that gauged on a percentage basis of how [Bishop] is healthy? I don't know if I can say that. If Ben Bishop can play a game, he's playing."


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