CHICAGO — With the mystery surrounding the Lightning goaltending situation reaching a fever pitch Sunday, coach Jon Cooper injected a little humor while revealing little.
"In honor of the 11-year anniversary of our first Stanley Cup, how would John Tortorella answer that?" Cooper quipped when asked about the situation, drawing laughs.
You can just imagine the glare from Tortorella, the Lightning's coach in 2004, while saying, "Next question."
Cooper did, however, give a few clues. He said he didn't know who would start tonight's Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final against the Blackhawks at the United Center. Whether that was gamesmanship or not, it appeared that whatever unknown condition led starter Ben Bishop to get relieved twice in the third period of Saturday's Game 2 by rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy is not serious.
" 'Bish' could be available," Cooper said. "You'll have a better indication, I guess, (today) at the skate."
The Lightning remains confident in whoever is in net, whether it is Bishop, the team MVP and backbone, or Vasilevskiy, a talented 20-year-old Russian considered the team's goalie of the future.
"I'll tell you, I don't know if we have a more prepared player in our locker room than (Vasilevskiy)," Cooper said. "He's ready to go in at any moment. You've got to love that in him. So if Bish can't go (tonight), is that a blow to us? Sure it is. But do we think the series is lost because Vasilevskiy is going in? Not a chance.
"I look at our tandem, and I'd like to stack them up against any tandem in the league because I think we've got 1 and 1A."
Bishop is a big reason the Lightning has gotten this far, a playoff MVP candidate with Game 7 shutouts against the Red Wings and Rangers. The Lightning is not saying why Bishop pulled himself out of Saturday's 4-3 win twice in the third period. Some suspect Bishop suffered an injury, favoring his left side/leg after Antoine Vermette ran into him early in the period. Others speculate Bishop was sick.
Bishop first came out with just under 13 minutes left. Vasilevskiy stepped in for 92 seconds, enough time for Jason Garrison to score the go-ahead goal and make the rookie the winning goalie.
Bishop returned briefly before leaving again. This time he hung around the bench, in his full gear, before heading to the locker room. Vasilevskiy, who had appeared in just two previous playoff games, said he was excited for the chance.
"When I win? I just feel myself happy," Vasilevskiy said. "That's it. Our arena was unbelievable, and I was just happy."
Vasilevskiy, a first-round draft pick in 2012, is considered one of the top goalie prospects in the past 20 years. He started the season with AHL Syracuse but was called up for good in February, the Lightning feeling comfortable enough with him to drop veteran backup Evgeni Nabokov.
Vasilevskiy went 7-5-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average in 16 regular-season games, impressing with his preparation and poise. Teammates and coaches say his work ethic ranks up there with that of former captain Marty St. Louis.
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"He's a great athlete, always the first guy here at the rink," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He's here for six or seven hours. It feels like he never leaves. He's a world-class athlete, and it's going to show down the line here how good a goalie he can be."
The superlatives held especially true in a Dec. 20 game against the Islanders at raucous Nassau Coliseum. Vasilevskiy made 45 saves in a 2-1 loss in his second NHL start.
"We should have lost 10-1," Cooper said. "The building was rocking. It was just a crazy atmosphere. He was unreal. He just played with this unreal calm about himself. That's kind of when I knew we had something in this kid."