Coach Jon Cooper said he didn't know until his Lightning team arrived at the United Center early Monday evening that goalie Ben Bishop would play in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. • Bishop had been removed twice from Saturday's Game 2 due to an undisclosed injury, his status remaining a mystery for two days. • Cooper and Bishop talked long and hard before Game 3, but in the end, all it took for Cooper was a look into Bishop's eyes to know the answer. • "That kid said, 'Give me the net,' " Cooper said. • Bishop delivered a gutsy performance, racking up 36 saves to help lift the Lightning to a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks. • Tampa Bay is two wins from hoisting its second Stanley Cup, and Bishop, the team's MVP and backbone, is a main reason why. • "He's a warrior," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "(Monday) was about Bishop." • Said center Tyler Johnson: "He never lets us down." • Like Bishop, the Lightning continued to show its trademark resilience. Captain Steven Stamkos said it "hit the reset button" after getting dominated in the first period. When the Blackhawks scored to go ahead 2-1 four minutes into the third, Ondrej Palat scored 13 seconds later.
And Hedman continued his "coming out party," as Cooper called it, setting up two goals with ridiculous assists, including on Cedric Paquette's winner with 3:11 to go.
"He was a monster out there," Cooper said of Hedman.
But so was Bishop, despite clearly not being his normal self. He favored his left side/leg when moving from right to left, his knees buckling at one point.
"It felt the same the entire game," he said.
Bishop was often slow to get up, especially after getting bowled over by Chicago win Brandon Saad in the second period. But Bishop said he never considered coming out of the game.
Cooper said the Lightning would never put a player in harm's way, and he never thought about pulling Bishop.
Asked if his injury could lead to a long-term problem, Bishop said, "I don't know."
"It's going to take a lot to not play in a Stanley Cup final game, personally," Bishop said.
Bishop needed to be at his best in the first period, when the Blackhawks outshot the Lightning 19-7. Though Chicago missed two wide-open nets — Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn likely saved a goal by committing a tripping penalty on Chicago wing Patrick Kane — Bishop ensured the game was tied at 1 after 20 minutes.
"It was incredible," Stamkos said.
Like Game 2, this was a highly entertaining, fast-paced thriller, with the sold-out United Center crowd making deafening noise. But the Lightning, like it has done all during its playoff run, found a way to win.
Tampa Bay continues to contain the Blackhawks' biggest stars, Kane and center and captain Jonathan Toews.
"We've run into great goaltenders in important series in the past," Toews said. "Eventually we find ways to open the floodgates."
Palat's tying goal may have been the dagger for Chicago, especially considering it came right after the Blackhawks went ahead.
"Any time you get a goal that quick after the other team scores one, it definitely deflates you," said Lightning wing Ryan Callahan, who put Tampa Bay up 1-0 5:09 into the game.
And now the Lightning — having overcome a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Red Wings in the first round, exacted revenge on the Canadiens in Round 2 and outlasted the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final — is halfway to the Cup.
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"It's just snowballing right now the confidence that this team has in any situation," Stamkos said.
And it has Bishop, who is adding to his resume for Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) consideration, largely to thank for its position.
"We've needed him to be our best player," center Brian Boyle said. "And he has been."
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow@TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Callahan 2 (Hedman, Brown), 5:09. 2, Chicago, Richards 3 (Hossa, Shaw), 14:22 (pp). Penalties—Coburn, TB (tripping), 8:12; Saad, Chi (cross-checking), 8:12; Coburn, TB (hooking), 12:42.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Kucherov, TB (tripping), 8:53; Bickell, Chi (roughing), 15:18; Saad, Chi (goaltender interference), 15:52.
Third Period—3, Chicago, Saad 7 (Hossa, Keith), 4:14. 4, Tampa Bay, Palat 8 (Kucherov, Johnson), 4:27. 5, Tampa Bay, Paquette 3 (Hedman, Callahan), 16:49. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-17-8—32. Chicago 19-7-12—38. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Chicago 1 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 13-9-0 (38 shots-36 saves). Chicago, Crawford 10-6-0 (32-29). A—22,336 (19,717). T—2:39. Referees—Kevin Pollock, Wes McCauley. Linesmen—Derek Amell, Brian Murphy.