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Ben Bishop set to return for Lightning

Goalie missed nine games because of lower-body injury, expected to start Thursday or Friday

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA -- Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop was a full participant at practice Wednesday and is likely to play against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday or the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday after missing nine games because of a lower-body injury.

Bishop, 30, last played Dec. 20, when he removed himself in the first period of a 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. He would not confirm which game he was scheduled to start.

"I've had a couple of good practices, so, yeah, I'm ready to get back at it," Bishop said. "It's never fun having to sit out and watch, but you're trying to get better, trying to focus on the challenge at hand, trying to get healthy again. We kind of worked back to where we are today. It's kind of an exciting time to get back on the ice.

"There will be a slight adjustment period, that first period you have to get used to the rush again, how they come at you. I'm not worried about the cardio side of it. I'm in good shape."

Bishop's return could be a big boost to the Lightning, who are 19-19-4, have lost four consecutive games (0-4-0) and entered play Wednesday four points behind the Ottawa Senators for third place in the Atlantic Division. A two-time Vezina Trophy finalist, Bishop helped the Lightning reach the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

Video: DET@TBL: Bishop leaves game with injury in 1st

"You're talking [about] the runner-up Vezina Trophy winner," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "You're talking a guy who handles the puck like a defenseman back there."

Bishop is 9-10-2 with a 2.79 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 22 games this season.

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has started every game in Bishop's absence and is 4-5-1 with an .895 save percentage during that span. The Lightning have allowed six goals in three of their past four games, but Bowness was quick to defend Vasilevskiy and said the Lightning's defensive play hasn't been up to par.

"[Vasilevskiy], give him so much credit," Bowness said. "We couldn't have played any worse in front of him in some of those games. We couldn't have, and he gave us a chance in almost every game. He battles so hard. He works so hard. He's such a great kid and he's a great, young goaltender. It's unfortunate for him that we played as poorly as we did when he was in there."

Bowness said Bishop's puck-handling ability will help the struggling defense get out of the zone quicker.

Video: TBL@CGY: Bishop denies Bennett's breakaway chance

"He gets it and we're out of there," Bowness said. "That's a huge benefit to us. Especially now when we're given up so many chances, we're giving up so many goals. The less time we spend in our zone, the better we're all going to be."

Forwards Ryan Callahan (lower body) and J.T. Brown, who took an elbow to the face from Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds on Saturday, did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday. Forwards Brayden Point (hand) and Steven Stamkos (knee surgery) remain out indefinitely. 

Callahan has been dealing with lingering issues from his offseason hip surgery and did not play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Coach Jon Cooper could not put a timetable on his possible return.

"It's hard to say," Cooper said Tuesday. "If Callahan was able to go he would go. What gets frustrating is he fights his way back and then he's out again."

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