Lightning fans who were looking forward to seeing old favorite Ben Bishop were disappointed to start the Stanley Cup final on Saturday night at Edmonton. Their former goalie wasn’t starting for the Stars.
Bishop is “unfit to play,” Dallas said, and fans got the “Battle of Bishop’s Backups,” as one person posted on Twitter: Anton Khudobin versus the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who backed up Bishop during the latter years of his tenure in Tampa Bay (April 2013-February 2017).
The Stars haven’t shared details about the status of Bishop, who has appeared in just three games this postseason. Interim coach Rick Bowness said before the game that Bishop was skating but he was not ready to play.
Bishop started the Stars' first game of the postseason, a round-robin loss to the Golden Knights on Aug. 3. Next, Bishop played in Game 2 of Dallas’ first-round series against Calgary.
After that, Bishop sat out eight games before making something of a surprise appearance in the second half of back-to-back games against Colorado in the Western Conference semifinals. He allowed four goals in 13:43, got pulled and hasn’t played since.
With the Lightning, Bishop was a fan favorite who maintained that status even after leaving the team in a trade to the Kings (who traded him to the Stars in May 2017 less than three months after acquiring him). His No. 30 jersey is still a frequent sighting at Amalie Arena, especially when he plays against the Lightning.
Vasilevskiy started his career as Bishop’s backup and got his first taste of the playoffs in 2015, when Bishop was hurt in the Stanley Cup final against the Blackhawks. Vasilevskiy refers to Bishop as his old goalie coach and has said he wouldn’t be the player he is without Bishop.
Next-season plays still in limbo
Commissioner Gary Bettman raised the possibility of next season beginning after the tentatively planned Dec. 1 start date, even while the plan remains for each team to play 82 games and the league hold a full playoffs.
The league hopes to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic circumstances worldwide and is open to adjusting on the fly as the situation evolves, Bettman said during his annual pre-Stanley Cup Final news conference at Edmonton. Acknowledging there are factors such as the U.S.-Canada border and local jurisdictions that are out of his control that could affect travel and attendance, Bettman said he wouldn’t be surprised if the season begins later in December or in January but he would like to avoid playing deep into next summer.
“If there’s an option to consider, believe me, we’re considering it,” Bettman said.
He also said next season could start without fans in buildings and then progress to socially distant fans at some point "and by some point in time maybe our buildings are open.”
One circumstance at play is the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel, which has more of an effect on the NHL than other pro sports league because it has seven teams in Canada and 24 in the United States.
Bettman also conceded there will be a financial hit because attendance makes up at least 50 percent of revenue. But "I’m comfortable that our franchises will be strong enough to weather this,” he said. “Our franchises will get through this and will come out stronger on the other side.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.