TAMPA — Ben Bishop began Wednesday night being named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL's top goaltender.
"He's got us to this point," center Brian Boyle said.
But this wasn't Bishop's finest hour, the Lightning All-Star goaltender pulled midway through a 5-3 loss to the Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Not many, especially the stunned sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena, have seen this often, Bishop — the team's often bulletproof backbone — giving up four goals in 13 shots of a big game, skating to the bench with 11 minutes to go in the second period.
"I felt good," he said. "Just one of those nights where it wasn't really hitting me."
But the loss can't be pinned solely on Bishop, not after 13 giveaways and not after what coach Jon Cooper dubbed "way too soft" play and "inexcusable" defensive coverage that led the Islanders to score twice in the final minute of the first period.
"That killed us," Cooper said.
But the game served as a prime example of how the Lightning, especially without injured Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, can't solely depend on its MVP to carry it past a surging Islanders team and a sparkling goalie, Thomas Greiss, who had 33 saves.
"He's been our best player all season," defenseman Victor Hedman said of Bishop. "He can't be at his best and bail us out every night. We've got to make sure that everybody bounces back, and we've got to help him better than we did."
Said Tyler Johnson: "We're lucky it's not like March Madness, where it's one game and you're out."
The Lightning has no doubts in Bishop's bounce-back ability for Saturday's Game 2, having witnessed it often. Bishop, relieved for just the second time this season (both by Andrei Vasilevskiy, against the Islanders both times), was also pulled twice in last year's playoffs, rebounding with a shutout in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Rangers after allowing five goals in 26 shots in Game 6.
"We've got no worries," Boyle said.
And Bishop didn't looked fazed postgame, having already mentally moved on.
"It's the big thing about the playoffs, all that matters if you won or lost," Bishop said. "It doesn't matter if you give up 10 or zero or one. If you lose a game, you can't really do anything about it, it's all about getting ready for the next game."
After a six-day layoff, the Lightning couldn't have started any better, taking a 1-0 lead on an Ondrej Palat goal three minutes in. But Travis Hamonic's tying goal three minutes later, a weird-angled shot from the side boards, was the first of four unanswered goals. Bishop saw it, squared it up, but it squeaked through "Ninety-nine out of 100 times I make that save," Bishop said. "It just found a hole."
Shane Prince then beat Bishop with a backdoor tap in, then a one-timer with three seconds to go in the first. The fourth was a "world-class shot" by John Tavares.
The Lightning made a too-little, too-late rally in the third, outshooting the Islanders 17-5 and pulling within one with 2:32 to go. But it needs its world-class goaltender to turn the page.
"Bish is Bish," Cooper said. "That kid bounces back, so I'm not worried."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Palat 2 (Drouin, Namestnikov), 3:05. 2, N.Y. Islanders, Hamonic 1 (Quine, Tavares), 5:44. 3, N.Y. Islanders, Prince 2 (Strome, Nelson), 17:28. 4, N.Y. Islanders, Prince 3 (Strome, Nelson), 19:57. Penalties—Johnson, TB (hooking), 9:06; Killorn, TB (kneeing), 11:53.
Second Period—5, N.Y. Islanders, Tavares 6 (Okposo, Nielsen), 8:59 (pp). Penalties—Zidlicky, NYI (interference), 2:21; Marchessault, TB (hooking), 8:12; Callahan, TB (holding), 17:41.
Third Period—6, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 6 (Carle, Hedman), 7:41. 7, Tampa Bay, Filppula 1 (Killorn, Garrison), 17:28. 8, N.Y. Islanders, Clutterbuck 1 (Cizikas, de Haan), 19:05 (en). Penalties—Cizikas, NYI (delay of game), 15:20. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 12-5-5—22. Tampa Bay 8-11-17—36. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 1 of 4; Tampa Bay 0 of 2. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Greiss 5-2-0 (36 shots-33 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 4-2-0 (13-9), Vasilevskiy (8:59 second, 8-8). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:32.