NEW YORK -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper wouldn't guarantee that No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop would get the start Tuesday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but he did sound confident that Bishop would get his first start since sustaining a sprained right wrist Jan. 5 in a 5-3 loss at the Edmonton Oilers.
"Bishop has got a real good chance to be in [Tuesday]," Cooper said Tuesday, hours after the Lightning lost 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, a game that saw them allow a pair of third-period power-play goals that cost them the game.
The hope is that Bishop, who ranks in the NHL's top five in wins, save percentage and shutouts, can provide a spark. Tampa Bay has dropped three of its past five during a stretch that will see them play their eighth game in their eighth different city when they take on the Rangers.
"He [Bishop] has won the lion's share of our games," Cooper said. "His numbers are outstanding. I think there's a confidence level with him in the net that has built over time in the first half of the season. He's earned that. He's also been a reason our penalty kill has been fairly good this year. Just his puck-playing ability and his ability to make big saves at times when we've needed them."
With Anders Lindback in net Monday, the Lightning penalty kill faltered in the third against Columbus and ultimately cost them a big game against an Eastern Conference opponent. But Cooper pointed out a number of issues that hurt his team, none of which were the play of his goaltender.
"[Lindback] has gone in here for a stretch and he's won us some games," Cooper said. "We kind of let him down [Monday]. The problem is we're not winning faceoffs to get pucks out. When we do have chances to get pucks out we don't get them out and we've lost our commitment to blocking shots. That's it. You look at the two wrist shots that went in [against Columbus], those can't go in. Somebody's got to eat those. That's an issue."
Injured defensemen Sami Salo and Keith Aulie participated in an optional skate for the Lightning but will not play. Richard Panik also skated and will be back in the lineup, meaning the Lightning likely will not dress seven defensemen, as they have been doing recently.
If Bishop does start, it could be a boost for a team that has plenty of confidence in its No. 1 goaltender.
"He's been unreal for us this year," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He's probably one of the best goaltenders in the League right now. He's proven it all year. It's not a fluke that he's up there in every category for goaltenders. He's been tremendous for us. If he's back, we're very glad."
The Rangers held a sparsely-attended optional skate and will not make any changes to a lineup that has gone 4-0-1 since a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 3. Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal for New York.
Here are the projected lineups for the Lightning and Rangers:
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Martin St. Louis
Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Nate Thompson - Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Brown - Richard Panik - B.J. Crombeen
Andrej Sustr - Victor Hedman
Radko Gudas - Matthew Carle
Eric Brewer - Mark Barberio
Scratched: Tom Pyatt, Jean-Philippe Cote
Injured: Sami Salo (ankle), Steven Stamkos (tibia), Mattias Ohlund (knee), Brian Lee (knee), Keith Aulie (hand)
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Mats Zuccarello - Derick Brassard - Benoit Pouliot
Daniel Carcillo - Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore
Dan Girardi - Ryan McDonagh
Anton Stralman - Marc Staal
John Moore - Michael Del Zotto
Scratched: Justin Falk
Injured: Derek Dorsett (leg)