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Bishop facing tall order in his debut with Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
After toiling for three games with the Binghamton Senators, big Ben Bishop will make his Ottawa debut tonight when the Senators face off against the Lightning in a key matchup in Tampa, Fla. (Just Sports Photography).

Call it a big moment for Ben Bishop.

So, too, is the size of the challenge he and his Senators teammates figure to face when the 6-7 goaltender makes his debut in an Ottawa uniform against the Lightning tonight at Tampa Bay Times Forum (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

Not only does Bishop have to contend with National Hockey League goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos — who's a mere hat trick shy of hitting the 50 mark for the second time in his still-young career — but the Bolts are charging hard to land an Eastern Conference playoff spot that appeared to be nothing but a pipe dream just a month ago.

"We're playing against a real good team with a couple of components we really have to pay attention to," Senators head coach Paul MacLean said of the Lightning, who've won seven of their last nine games to pull within four points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, currently held by the Winnipeg Jets. "They're playing real well right now and we haven't played real well over our last six periods.

"So we want to make sure we come out and get a good start and we'll start from there."

Bishop, obtained from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 26, brings the same kind of mindset to his debut outing with the Senators. While he's "excited" about this opportunity, he also adds "I've got to get down to business in a couple of hours."

"If somebody tells you they're not nervous for their first game of the year, they're probably lying to you," said Bishop, whose resume includes seven previous games of NHL experience with the Blues — but none in the current campaign. "I'm sure there will be some nerves, but that's expected. Everybody gets them but usually when the puck drops, it kind of goes away.

"You don't want to be out there wandering around ... I've never played with these guys and I'm just trying to learn everybody's name. It'll be fun, but (I just want to) keep it simple. That'll be the easiest way to do it."

After the trade with St. Louis was completed, Bishop was sent down to the Binghamton Senators, where he played three American Hockey League games while Robin Lehner and Alex Auld held the fort in Ottawa in the absence of injured starter Craig Anderson. The 25-year-old Denver native made 41 saves in each of his two starts with the B-Sens — both of them wins — and finished his stint there with a 2-1-0 record, a 2.35 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.

"It was good," said Bishop, who spent most of the season with the Peoria Rivermen and ranks second in the AHL in goaltending wins with 26. "(I faced) a lot of shots, so it was nice. But it's definitely different being up here. There's not really any comparables, so I'm excited to get up here and get to work."

The Senators have already inked Bishop to a one-year, one-way contact extension, meaning the door is open for him to finally land that full-time opportunity in the NHL. It's something he believed was at hand in St. Louis this season, but former Senators stopper Brian Elliott beat him up out for the backup job with the Blues in training camp and has since turned in a renaissance season there.

"I went into St. Louis (in training camp) fully expecting to make that team and they went with the guy who was older and didn't have to clear waivers, which was understandable," said Bishop, who harbours no bitterness toward the team that made him a third-round pick (85th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. "There's a business side of the game as well. And Elliott played unbelievable, so you have to tip your cap to him.

"You can't be mad at the Blues — they did what was right for them — and they were nice enough to move me at the deadline and give me this chance. I'm happy they gave me that chance and I'm excited to be here."

Around the boards

Tonight's game also marks the return to Tampa of blueliner Matt Gilroy, who's impressed MacLean in his short time in Ottawa since his aquisition from the Lightning on Feb. 27 trade deadline day. "Matt's come in and played real well for us," MacLean said following the Sens' pre-game skate earlier today. "He's (given) us another player who can move the puck and can add to our offence. Our anticipation is that when he gets more comfortable with the way we play him and he gets more confident with it, he's going to be a dimension on the blue line that's going to be important for us." ... The Senators have won all three previous meetings against the Lightning this season, by scores of 4-2, 4-1 and 4-0. Anderson earned the shutout in the latter contest back on Feb. 14 ... Forwards Zack Smith and Kaspars Daugavins return to the lineup tonight for Ottawa, while Bobby Butler and Zenon Konopka are the healthy scratches up front along with blueliner Matt Carkner ... Ottawa returns home to face the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

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