Ben Bishop enjoys playing at Chicago's United Center and not just because family and friends can easily drive from his hometown of St. Louis to watch him.
The Lightning goalie has played some of his best games in the Windy City, including Tuesday's spectacular 37-save performance that stole a point for the Lightning in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Blackhawks.
"He probably could have been the first, second and third star," coach Jon Cooper said.
"He stood on his head," defenseman Matt Carle said. "He's probably our MVP most nights."
For Bishop, 27, Chicago is where his NHL breakout started. His 37-save effort in a 3-2 shootout win Oct. 5, 2013, set the tone for last season, which ended with him being a Vezina Trophy (top goalie) finalist. It was when he grabbed hold of the Lightning's No. 1 job and didn't let go.
"I think it gave 'Bish' a ton of confidence," Cooper said. "And we kind of rode him after that."
Bishop, then competing with Anders Lindback for the No. 1 role, thought he would start last season's opener in Boston but was told the day before by the coaches — who weren't satisfied with his practice habits — that Lindback would get the nod.
"I wasn't too happy about it," Bishop said. "But sometimes that's the way it is."
Bishop responded two nights later by dazzling in Chicago and went on to win seven of his first eight starts.
"As far as 'Lindy' and I battling, coming in there and getting that win and taking the ball and almost run with it the rest of the year, it was good," Bishop said. "If you lose that game, you don't know who is going to start the next game. Maybe Lindy starts in Buffalo and you never know what happens. It worked out well."
Goalie coach Frantz Jean said those moments early last season were part of Bishop's growth.
"He's still a fairly young goaltender," Frantz said. "So that's part of his maturity … to continue working on his habits on and off the ice, making sure everything he does there's a purpose and he does it at a high level."
Bishop was disappointed he didn't get to finish what he started, missing the Lightning's first-round playoff sweep by the Canadiens due to a dislocated elbow. In the offseason his right wrist was surgically repaired, and he is pleased with how the wrist has felt, though it's not 100 percent.
He has picked up where he left off last season, going 9-1-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average in his 12 starts, a big reason Tampa Bay (11-4-2) enters tonight's game against the Sharks at Amalie Arena atop the Eastern Conference. But Bishop says the most important statistic is wins, and he has found a way to make big saves when it matters most, like in Sunday's shootout win in Detroit and on Tuesday.
"You look at the guys in the league consistent year in, year out, guys like (the Rangers' Henrik) Lundqvist, who every year is getting 30 wins and playing 60 games. That's what you want," Bishop said. "You want to be the guy that can be relied on every year."
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Bishop is happy he'll get to do that in Tampa Bay for the near future, having signed a two-year, $4.6 million contract extension last summer. It has put him at ease this season, keeping him from having to answer questions about pending free agency.
"This is the team I want to be on," Bishop said. "I see a bright future with these guys. Good group of guys in here, good team. There's really nowhere else I want to be."
MEDICAL MATTERS: The Lightning got encouraging news Wednesday on center Tyler Johnson, who is day to day with an upper-body injury suffered Tuesday. Johnson, who was cross-checked in the rib area by defenseman Brent Seabrook, is the team's leading scorer with 18 points and anchors the hot second line.
Don't expect a callup. Even if center Alex Killorn (upper body) isn't ready, defenseman Mark Barberio could play in an 11-forward, seven-defensemen lineup.