For Lightning, it's time for Ben Bishop to stand tall

Goalie Ben Bishop isn’t feeling Game 7 pressure: “Go out and play your game and try to give your team a chance to win.’’
Goalie Ben Bishop isn’t feeling Game 7 pressure: “Go out and play your game and try to give your team a chance to win.’’
Published Apr. 29, 2015


The most important member of the Lightning walked down the hallway in a T-shirt and shorts and set his 6-foot-7 frame at an unused locker inside the locker room at Amalie Arena.

He sat back, crossed his ankles, smiled easily, told a few stories and acted like a guy who had all the concerns of someone about to play Frisbee at the beach. You couldn't tell that he is about to play the biggest hockey game of his life.

His team needs him more than anyone and now more than ever. Only the entire season rests on his shoulders.

The Lightning takes on the Red Wings tonight in a winner-take-all Game 7. If it advances and keeps its Stanley Cup hopes alive, goalie Ben Bishop will get the credit. If the Lightning loses and watches its season fall well short of expectations, Bishop will be blamed.

Hero or goat. Champ or chump. Welcome to life as an NHL goalie. Welcome to Bishop's world.

Tampa Bay will dress 20 players and it could use the likes of Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson to have big games. But if there is one player who needs to be really good, it's Bishop. And if there is one player who cannot afford to be lousy, it is Bishop.

It's all up to him.

"The big thing is to not look at the big picture,'' Bishop, 28, said. "You just got to go out and play your game and try to give your team a chance to win.''

Bishop has too much respect for hockey and too much respect for this crazy series to dismiss Game 7 as just another game. But that's kind of what Bishop is saying. His job tonight is no different than his duties in mid October or late December or early March.

Stop the puck.

"It's hard for people to believe that, but it's the same,'' Bishop said.

Forwards and defensemen have to constantly think of what could go wrong and play accordingly. But Bishop is right in saying that his job doesn't change just because the stakes are higher.

"It doesn't,'' Bishop said. "But the big thing is how you react to a goal. If you give up one that isn't the best goal, the big thing is to how you react. You can't get too high or too low.''

Bishop has given up two so-so goals in this series. One was a freakish own goal in Game 4 that turned out not to cost the Lightning because of a third-period comeback that led to an overtime victory. The other debatable soft goal was in Game 1 and that hurt because Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek was busy stealing a game with a 44-save performance.

Mrazek went on to pitch two shutouts, but those were more of a result of Detroit's stifling defense than Mrazek standing on his head, to use one of hockey's most outlandish yet amusing cliches.

The point being that goaltending hasn't really left too many fingerprints on this series. That should change tonight.

"Both Game 7s (I've been in) have been 1-0 games,'' Stamkos said, "and the goalies have played great at both ends.''

Lightning forward Valtteri Filppula added, "The goalie is always going to be the most important guy or pretty close to it. And Bish has been great. You need a goalie like that for us to have a chance to win and, so far, he has done a really good job.''

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No one really knew what to expect from Bishop coming into these playoffs. He was outstanding in the regular season. He set a franchise record for wins last season and then broke that record this season.

But he never appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was injured before last postseason and his absence, most believe, had a lot to do with the Lightning being swept by Montreal.

"You want to give your team a chance to win,'' Bishop said. "I feel like so far in the playoffs, every game, I've given my team a chance to win. I don't want to do anything different going into (tonight's) game.''

Bishop has never played a Game 7, but this isn't his first do-or-die game. Six times in college at Maine, he played in such games. He won four of them. On Monday night, he backstopped the Lightning to a season-saving victory over the Red Wings in Game 6.

"I feel a little bit more comfortable when it's more intense,'' Bishop said. "I think it's one of those things, too, where you have to remind yourself to relax. … You've got to tell yourself to take deep breathes and relax. For some reason, I'm usually more relaxed, the bigger the game.''

Reputations are made in Game 7s and yet Game 7 can be cruel. Patrick Roy might be the greatest goalie ever. He played in 13 Game 7s and won only six of them. His last game ever was a Game 7 overtime loss and he once got bombed for six goals in a 7-0 Game 7 loss.

Meantime, Lightning goalies have been outstanding in Game 7s. In 2011, Dwayne Roloson beat the Penguins, 1-0, and lost to the Bruins, 1-0. During the 2004 Cup year, Nikolai Khabibulin beat Philadelphia and Calgary in Game 7s by identical 2-1 scores. So that's a 3-1 record with only three goals allowed for Lightning goalies in Game 7s.

Bishop hopes to add to those impressive numbers.

"You see the competitiveness he has had all year,'' Stamkos said. "You see his calm demeanor, so we have a lot of trust him and we believe he is going to step up and play very well for us.''

If he doesn't, the Lightning season is likely over. Not a very relaxing thought.