BOSTON — Goalie Ben Bishop seemed exasperated as he sat at his locker stall Sunday afternoon.
The Lightning starter had allowed four goals in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. On a few, he had little chance. Dominic Moore swatted in a bouncing puck in the slot. A power-play point shot by Torey Krug was deflected by two Bruins before beating Bishop. The fourth was a rebound that bounced in off the shin pad of Lightning center Tyler Johnson.
"It's kind of been the story of the year," Bishop said. "Bad bounce, tips, goals off my own players. It kind of seems like it happens every single game, but nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You've just got to keep working and eventually the tides will turn."
Coach Jon Cooper believes it will. It has been a strange season for Bishop, 30, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist. Bishop's 3.04 goals-against average and .902 save percentage are on pace for career worsts. He's got a losing record at 7-8-0.
In five of his 15 games, he has allowed four or more goals; he had just 10 such outings out of 61 last season. You wonder how much Bishop's uncertain future is weighing on him, much like a similar situation did on captain Steven Stamkos last season. Bishop is in the final year of his contract, as Stamkos was last season. He doesn't know where he will be after March's trade deadline, much less next season. And his backup, future No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy, 22, is pushing for more time with a sparkling start (6-1-0, a league-leading 1.50 goals-against average).
But expect Cooper — at least for the time being — to stick with Bishop, who has been the team's backbone and MVP in back-to- back playoff runs. Bishop has earned the benefit of the doubt in working through early season inconsistencies.
"With anybody, you play 82 games with so many ebbs and flows," Cooper said. "The lows aren't that low in the big picture, and the highs aren't that high. You've got to stay the course. … Just keep going to work. Eventually goal scorers will score, and setup guys will set up guys, and good goalies will stop pucks. That's what happens. You've just got to weather through it."
The Lightning (13-9-1) has dropped two straight heading into tough venues in Columbus and St. Louis. It still has won five of eight and is adjusting to life without Stamkos, who is out until about March after knee surgery. Tampa Bay also is feeling the loss of top-pair defenseman Anton Stralman (upper body), who is nearing a return after missing eight games.
Like Friday's 5-3 loss to Columbus — for which Bishop unfairly shouldered the blame — Sunday can't be pinned on him either. The Lightning scored just once, on Victor Hedman's goal late in the third. Cooper said several "blown assignments" led to Boston's goals.
Still, even for an accomplished veteran such as Bishop, these kinds of games can wear on his confidence.
"When it keeps happening game in and game out, it's a little frustrating," Bishop said. "But at the same time, nobody is going to feel sorry for you."
Bishop's teammates are feeling sorry for him. The Lightning's two worst performances this season have come with Bishop in net, a 6-1 loss to the Rangers and Friday's "stinker," as Cooper called it.
"He's always had our backs," Johnson said. "And now it's got to be our turn to really step up."
First Period—None. Penalties—Miller, BOS, (slashing), 3:15; Nash, BOS, (tripping), 10:18; Kucherov, TB, (slashing), 19:47; Krug, BOS, (slashing), 19:47; Kucherov, TB, Major (fighting), 19:47; Krug, BOS, Major (fighting), 19:47.
Second Period—1, Boston, Moore 6 (Spooner, Miller), 2:24. 2, Boston, Backes 5 (Krug, Bergeron), 12:30 (pp). 3, Boston, Hayes 1 (Schaller, Krejci), 17:33. Penalties—Drouin, TB, (tripping), 11:45.
Third Period—4, Boston, Pastrnak 13 (Krug, Marchand), 9:43. 5, Tampa Bay, Hedman 5 (Nesterov, Point), 17:21. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-9-15—31. Boston 6-15-9—30. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Boston 1 of 1. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 7-8-0 (30 shots-26 saves). Boston, Rask 12-4-0 (31-30). A—17,565 (17,565). T—2:35. Referees—Garrett Rank, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—Scott Cherrey, Kory Nagy.