Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ben Bishop remains Lightning's rock

TAMPA — The Lightning is in trouble, still fighting to climb its way into playoff position at 14-12-3 despite boasting a goaltender with the league's best goals against average.

"Can you imagine if he wasn't?" coach Jon Cooper asked Friday of Ben Bishop. "Probably be a little nerve-wracking."

The offensively challenged Lightning might be in the league's basement if not for Bishop, 29, perhaps playing the best hockey of his career.

"He's been our most consistent player — by far," defenseman Anton Stralman said. "Hasn't had a bad game yet."

Bishop's 1.95 goals-against average is tied for the NHL lead with Washington's Braden Holtby heading into tonight's matchup with the high-powered Capitals.

"Ben is trending to that upper echelon," said CBC analyst Darren Pang, a former NHL goalie. "I think he has all the makings of a guy that can win a Vezina Trophy (as the league's top goalie), he's got all the makings of a guy who can win a Stanley Cup. Win the Stanley Cup and you'll be in there as a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate.

"I think you can feel a confidence that team has in him. He doesn't go away. Some guys just fade away; they don't come back. But he doesn't do that."

Bishop, a Vezina finalist in 2014, picked up where he left off during the playoffs last season, when he had two Game 7 shutouts on the way to the Cup final. He said it's just a continued progression in his third full season as starter and credits the defense, which he calls "the best in the league.

"I don't think there's anything different, I don't feel any different," Bishop said. "I just feel like I've been getting better as the years have gone on."

Touted prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy is thought to be the Lightning's future No. 1, with speculation the team might eventually trade Bishop, who carries a $5.9 million cap hit through next season.

But giving up an established No. 1, never mind one of the best goalies in the league, won't be easy. And Bishop doesn't appear ready to give up the net to Vasilevskiy, who is playing in AHL Syracuse this weekend as the Lightning rides its hot hand. Bishop has been through it — with both the Blues and Senators he was the backup many believed would take over.

"You don't think about it," Bishop said. "…Vasy is going to be a great goalie, but he's still really young. He still needs to grow and learn the game. I think he'll do that. But right now, that's not really my focus."

The mental maturation is where Cooper and Bishop admit he has had the most growth. Bishop said that even keel has helped him when the team scored just three combined goals during his five-game losing streak as he allowed eight. The Lightning ranks 25th in scoring at 2.38 goals a game, averaging 1.7 in Bishop's 10 losses (eight in regulation).

"There will be ups and downs, but don't be too hard on yourself or high on yourself when things are going well," Bishop said. "That's the biggest thing I've learned is not ride the roller-coaster, keep it simple."

The Lightning points to its No. 3 ranking in goals against (2.21) but let's not kid ourselves, Bishop is the key reason, often bailing his team out while playing 23 of the 29 games. Take Thursday's 4-1 win over Ottawa. "In the first period, we were (awful)," Stralman said. "And he stood tall.

Stralman said Bishop reminds him of Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, his former teammate with the Rangers.

"He definitely has that mental edge to his game when needed the most, he's usually the best," Stralman said. "That's very similar to Hank. The bigger the challenge, the bigger his response is. He's a top-notch player."

Contact Joe Smith at Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Ben Bishop: By the numbers

1.95 Goals-against average, tied for first in the NHL (with Capitals' Braden Holtby)

.931 Save percentage, fifth in NHL

12 Starts in which Bishop has allowed two goals or fewer

1.7 Goals per game by Lightning in Bishop's 10 losses (eight in regulation)

23 Games played, fifth in NHL

. Tonight

Lightning vs. Capitals

When/where: 7, Amalie Arena

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun, 970-AM

Key stats: The Capitals (19-6-2) entered Friday leading the Metropolitan Division, having won seven of their past 10 (7-2-1), including a 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay Nov. 27 at Washington. Washington ranks fifth in the league in scoring (3 goals per game), led by Alex Ovechkin's 14 goals, and boasts the third-best power play (23.9 percent). Ovechkin leads the league with 137 shots. Lightning C Tyler Johnson (body maintenance) didn't practice Friday and appears questionable for tonight's game. "We'll have to see about (Saturday)," coach Jon Cooper said.

Ben Bishop remains Lightning's rock 12/11/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2015 10:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Thursday's Rays-Yankees game

    The Heater

    The 10 strikeouts look flashy, but RHP Chris Archer was not his sharpest Thursday. He allowed three runs on seven hits, including three straight in the two-run second and a Gary Sanchez homer in the third, and lasted only six innings, throwing 102 pitches.

  2. Rays fall to Yankees in 11 on Brett Gardner homer (w/ video)

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The front office did its part Thursday, making two trades to bolster the Rays' roster in a bid to make the playoffs. But the team on the field didn't follow through in a frustrating 6-5 11-inning loss to the Yankees.

    Evan Longoria hits a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Yankees as the Rays come back from a 3-0 deficit to take a 5-3 lead. They lose 6-5 in 11.
  3. Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

    Lucas Duda
  4. Bucs' direction is decidedly up for first time in several years


    TAMPA — If you want to see a team give the Heisman Trophy stiff-arm to expectations, check out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Tight end O.J. Howard (20), the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, was brought in to give QB Jameis Winston another big-play option.
  5. Rays at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. Friday, New York

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Yankees

    7:05, Yankee Stadium, New York

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) in the dugout during the ninth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, April 2, 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 7-3.