TAMPA — The media scrum naturally gravitated toward Ben Bishop first Saturday night, as the Lightning goaltender was the unquestioned star of a desperately needed 2-0 win over Arizona.
During the middle of the interview, captain Steven Stamkos jumped in, pretending to use his phone as a recorder before asking Bishop his thoughts on setting a franchise record with 15 shutouts in Tampa Bay, one more than Nikolai Khabibulin.
"That's exciting," Bishop said, smiling. "Hopefully we can add to it."
Having one of the world's best goalies has a certain way of lifting the Lightning's spirits, even with Saturday just its second win in seven games. After all, Bishop has carried his team often during this Vezina Trophy-caliber season, leading the league in goals-against average in 2.02, his .928 save percentage second. Bishop clinched his third consecutive 30-win season, which could have easily been closer to 40 already had it not been for 11 hard-luck losses when he has given up two goals or fewer.
When the Red Wings arrive in town for Tuesday's showdown at Amalie Arena, Bishop will be in net, the same 6-foot-7 goaltender who ended Detroit's season with a Game 7 shutout in April's first-round playoff series.
"He's absolutely one of the best goalies in the league, no doubt," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "Think that's been pretty obvious the last couple years."
Said wing Ondrej Palat: "He's a Vezina candidate for sure, for me."
There have been many nights this season like Saturday, where Bishop bailed out Tampa Bay (41-26-5). He was at his best during the game's tipping point, killing Arizona's back-to-back five-on-three power plays in the second period (for a full two minutes) to preserve a one-goal lead. Bishop made 31 saves overall, with Palat's late-first period goal the only support he needed.
"I'll tell you, when we break down, it's pretty nice to know you have somebody back there holding down the fort for you," Cooper said.
While this is Bishop's best statistical season, the All-Star and 2014 Vezina Trophy finalist hasn't done anything differently.
"I really don't feel like I've been in a groove one way or another," Bishop said. "I've kind of felt the same way all season. Sometimes I get lucky. Guys do a great job in front of me, make my job easy. Sometimes you have to make some big saves, but other than that, a lot of credit goes to this defense."
The Lightning wouldn't be where it is — second in the Atlantic Division, two points behind first-place Florida — if not for Bishop's consistency. His teammates know it. Bishop tweeted a photo Saturday night of Stamkos proudly wearing a Bishop T-shirt on the team's plane ride back from Arizona.
"We have 10 games to go and a long way to get ourselves a playoff spot," Cooper said. "But, to be honest, I don't know if we're here without Bishop."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.