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Will bye week impact red-hot Lightning goaltending?

18

February

You'd think of all players, goalies would be the most impacted by the bye week.

Five days without facing a shot can't be easy for a position so dependent on feel and split-second reaction.

But Lightning goalie Ben Bishop didn't seem fazed in Friday's first practice back.

"I felt like I never missed a beat," he said.

Tampa Bay better hope that holds up Saturday against the Stars at American Airlines Arena when Andrei Vasilevskiy starts in net. The biggest reason for the Lightning's recent run - having won three of its last four - has been its goaltending. Bishop has allowed three goals in his past three starts. Vasilevskiy made 37 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss in Minnesota.

"They've been our best players," coach Jon Cooper said.

But judging from how goaltenders have responded after the bye this season, picking up where you left off is easier said than done. Just ask the Panthers' James Reimer, who was pulled in his post-bye start after allowing three goals in 14 shots. Rangers' star Henrik Lundqvist had an awful .789 save percentage in his first three starts after the break. Former Lightning goalie Mike Smith was at .878 for Arizona.

"I honestly didn’t feel very good," Smith said. "It took me a period probably to get back into it. I think as a goalie, and this is coming from my experience, I personally don’t like more than a day off at a time. When you get three, four in a row, I think you kind of lose the rhythm you’re in maybe, just feeling the puck, handling the puck, all that kind of plays into it. So I think it’s definitely difficult."

The Lightning (25-24-7) has no margin for error as it is fighting for its playoff life. So any slip up from its goaltenders could be crushing, especially for the team's confidence.

"I always say, you can't have a good team unless you have a good goalie," center Tyler Johnson said. "We're extremely fortunate we have two of the best. When they're on, they're playing well, it makes everything so much easier. It makes it easier to relax and play your game. You know you have them back there to really bail you out when you need."

Goalie coach Frantz Jean said the bye week may actually help Bishop and Vasilevskiy. There have been goalies that performed well after the bye, from the Senators' Mike Condon (.943 save percentage in his first three starts), Islanders' Thomas Greiss and Flyers' Steve Mason (.927).

"I think it's going to be good to be able to step away for a couple days," Jean said. "You get away from the game physically, mentally. It can kind of rejuvenate you a little bit. We'll see. We've never experienced it really except the All-Star break.

"But I think it might be a good thing after all."

For the Lightning, it better be.

[Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2017 2:25pm]

    

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