Seen wincing and hobbled by some sort of mystery lower body injury, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop gutted out a 36-save performance to sew up a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday night.
Now as the series turns to Wednesday’s Game 4 with Tampa Bay holding a 2-1 series lead and regaining home ice advantage, Bishop’s health again falls under scrutiny as the Lightning reach a critical juncture.
Bishop, 28, was injured in Game 2 and left twice in the third period with 20-year-old rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy tabbed to keep Tampa Bay afloat. The Lightning would win 4-3 to even the series behind defenseman Jason Garrison’s power play goal about halfway through the third.
Tampa Bay kept Bishop's status for Game 3 on the down low for as long as possible, and the same is likely until Game 4.
Bishop, who’s gone 13-9 with a .919 save percentage and three shutouts in his first postseason run, returned and started in Game 3 but at times would be slow to get up. He pushed through to give Tampa Bay the lead after two poor performances in the first two games of the series.
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper told reporters the decision to start Bishop wasn’t so easy, but that he could read his star 6-foot-7 net minder.
“We talked long and hard if he could play tonight,” Cooper said. “You can read when guys are sitting there, saying, Coach, I’ll go for you…. [Bishop] said, give me the net. [And] I knew we were going to be okay.”
The first period of Game 3 was especially arduous for Bishop, with Chicago launching 18 of its 38 total shots in the opening 20 minutes, and it took a Blackhawks power play for forward Brad Richards to break through.
It proved to be just the second home loss and first set of back-to-back letdowns of these playoffs for Chicago, but Lightning forward Steve Stamkos said the gutsy performance is nothing new to the team.
"We've known how good he is all along," Stamkos said. "Words can't describe the force he was out there."
Bishop certainly provided a legendary and gritty game, but it was also telling of how little Chicago’s getting from its top forwards. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have yet to score in the series even after totaling seven shots on goal in Game 3.
It’s even more disconcerting that Blackhawks keeper Corey Crawford can’t outlast an opponents’ hobbled goalie. Crawford’s allowed three or more goals in two straight games now, which happened in two other stints this postseason. Against Nashville, he surrendered an average of three goals in three games, though Crawford didn’t allow any over more than 48 minutes in the Game 6 clincher.
Crawford then recovered in the next round against Minnesota, giving up three goals in Games 1 and 4, but only one in Games 2 and 3 combined. He then gave up four goals in a double-overtime Game 4 win over Anaheim, and coughed up five more in the Game 5 overtime loss.