BUFFALO, N.Y. — It looked like Ben Bishop had no chance.
The Lightning goalie was deked out by Flyers star Claude Giroux during a first-period penalty shot Thursday. Bishop slid to the right, leaving Giroux an open net.
"He had me beat," Bishop said.
But Bishop, 28, didn't give up. There's a reason defenseman Anton Stralman calls Bishop the most competitive goalie he has ever played with (a group that includes Rangers Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist). Bishop instinctively tried something he had done only once, in practice. He lunged to lift Giroux's stick and thwarted the attempt.
"It's kind of desperation," Bishop said.
Bishop stopped two penalty shots in the 3-2 overtime win over the Flyers, becoming just the fifth goalie in the expansion era (since 1967-68) to do so in one game, the Elias Sports Bureau said. Such a night is something the Lightning has come to expect from the 6-foot-7 Bishop, who has become the franchise's backbone and most important player, especially when it comes to making another Stanley Cup run.
"Without his performance, we don't have two points (Thursday)," wing Ryan Callahan said. "It seems like he hasn't missed a beat."
Bishop seems to have picked up where he left off in last season's playoffs, when he posted two Game 7 shutouts to bring the Lightning within two wins of the Stanley Cup. He has shown no signs of wear from the torn groin he suffered in the Cup final, and that's encouraging considering he will carry a heavy load this season, including potentially playing all three games on the road trip that starts today against the Sabres.
With uncertainty at the backup position — unproven Kevin Poulin is filling in until Andrei Vasilevskiy (vascular surgery) is expected to be ready in early November — the Lightning can ill afford to lose Bishop for any length of time.
"In the couple years I've been here, he's just getting better and better and better," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's more confident. There were some big-time chances for him to come up and make those saves (Thursday). That's what you ask your goalie to do, give us as chance to win the game, and he did that."
That consistency is what Bishop strives for, how he feels he can reach elite status.
Only two goalies have played more games the past two seasons than Bishop's 150, the Blackhawks' Corey Crawford (155) and Lundqvist (153). Bishop has achieved 30 wins and 60 starts in back-to-back seasons. Lundqvist has done it in seven of the past eight non-lockout-shortened seasons. Reigning league MVP Carey Price of the Canadiens and Jonathan Quick of the Kings have reached 30/60 at least three times.
Bishop, a 2014 finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's best goalie, also outperformed Price and Lundqvist in head-to-head matchups in last season's playoffs, but, he said, "that was one year" and it is "over and done with."
"I think (consistency) will put you in that (elite) category," Bishop said. "I'm not going to say I'm in it, but if you do that year in, year out, I think over time you'll get that reputation."
Bishop has all the tools to get it. He has a hard-to-find blend of size and athleticism. He is at his best when his movements are controlled, squaring up to shooters. Bishop has an overlooked ability to play the puck, which makes him like another defenseman, fueling the Lightning rush.
Forward Brian Boyle said Bishop is a big talker during games, directing traffic, making breakouts smoother. He has improved his ability to stay on an even keel emotionally, controlling good/bad periods and games.
"I didn't approach (a) Game 7 any different than I approach a home game against Dallas in the preseason," Bishop said. "Same routine, same preparation. … I think that's why it doesn't get to me."
Not even penalty shots.