Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning hopes bye week won't dull goalies' sharpness

DALLAS — You'd think of all players, goalies would be the most negatively impacted by this season's bye week.

Five days without facing a shot can't be easy for a position so dependent on feel and split-second reaction.

But Lightning goalie Ben Bishop didn't seem fazed in Friday's first practice back.

"I felt like I never missed a beat," he said.

The biggest reason for the Lightning's recent run — it entered Saturday's game against the Stars at American Airlines Arena having won three of its past four — has been its goaltending. Bishop had allowed three goals combined in his previous three starts. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss in Minnesota on Feb. 10.

"They've been our best players," coach Jon Cooper said.

But judging from how goaltenders have responded after the bye, picking up where they left off is easier said than done. Just ask the Panthers' James Reimer, who was pulled in his first post-bye start after allowing three goals on 14 shots. Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist had an awful .789 save percentage in his first three starts after his break. Former Lightning goalie Mike Smith was at .878 for Arizona.

"I honestly didn't feel very good," Smith said. "It took me a period probably to get back into it. I think as a goalie — and this is coming from my experience — I personally don't like more than a day off at a time. When you get three, four in a row, I think you kind of lose the rhythm you're in, maybe. Just feeling the puck, handling the puck, all that kind of plays into it. So I think it's definitely difficult."

The Lightning has no margin for error as it fights for its playoff life. So any slipup from its goaltenders could be crushing, especially for its confidence.

"I always say, you can't have a good team unless you have a good goalie," center Tyler Johnson said. "We're extremely fortunate we have two of the best. When they're on, they're playing well, it makes everything so much easier. It makes it easier to relax and play your game. You know you have them back there to really bail you out when you need."

Lightning goalie coach Frantz Jean said the bye week may actually help Bishop and Vasilevskiy. There have been goalies that performed well after the bye, including the Senators' Mike Condon (.943 save percentage in his first three starts), the Islanders' Thomas Greiss and the Flyers' Steve Mason (.927).

"I think it's going to be good to be able to step away for a couple days," Jean said. "You get away from the game physically, mentally. It can kind of rejuvenate you a little bit. We'll see. We've never experienced it, really, except the All-Star break.

"But I think it might be a good thing after all."

For the Lightning, it better.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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