In a game that saw the elimination of one team from playoff contention, it could also very well have seen the elimination of one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season along with his team’s hopes of winning a Stanley Cup. Ben Bishop was carried off the ice in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in an apparent upper body injury. The Vezina Trophy candidate injured his wrist earlier this season in January that sidelined him for a little more than a week. The wrist injury ended up only being a sprain and Bishop returned after just as strong as before in his first game back, stopping 33 of 34 shots in a win over the New York Rangers. If Ben Bishop remains injured into the playoffs, there is no doubt the Bolts chance of making a deep run in the playoffs is in jeopardy.
The Tampa Bay Lightning can attribute this season’s successes to a variety of factors- the success of rookie NHL head coach Jon Cooper (who has proven to be a winning coach at every level), the emergence of young stars like defenseman Victor Hedman (who has drawn comparisons to the great Chris Pronger), and the magnificent return of Steven Stamkos from an injury that was supposed to keep him sidelined the whole season… But the biggest reason for their success has been the mainstay in net for the Bolts, Ben Bishop. Bishop has posted a season worthy of Vezina Trophy consideration and if it was not for Tukka Rask putting up ridiculous numbers this season, he most likely would be the front-runner for the award.
The gigantic 27-year-old net minder who is 6’7″ and in his first full season of work as a starter has posted an outstanding record of 37-14-7 with a 2.23 GAA and a .924 save percentage to go with 6 shutouts. Without Ben Bishop in net, the Lightning will have to rely on backup Anders Lindback- who shut out the Maple Leafs after Bishop was injured in the first period- but to expect Lindback to have the type of influence in net that Bishop has had is a tall order for anyone backup trying to help his team make a deep playoff run.
Lindback has struggled mightily this season posting a 6-12-2 record overall and has a .884 save percentage to go along with a 3.11 GAA. Even though Lindback’s struggles on the season are apparent, the 25 save shutout he had against a Maple Leafs team fighting for their playoff lives is a good note to start on. The life of a backup goalie is not a glamorous one to say the least. As a backup, the goalie is called on to fill in, not warmed up, for a struggling starter in the middle of a game or is nothing more than a spot starter to give the starting tender a rest. It is hard to get in a rhythm of success when someone is in a role such as that. However, the Bolts feel comfortable behind Lindback after Tuesday night’s showing with Defensemen Victor Hedman saying that Lindback’s shutout performance was “big” and that the team feels comfortable “(to) count on Lindy” moving forward.
Whoever is in net for the Bolts, with Bishop hurt or playing and not at 100 percent, the Lightning’s hopes of making a deep run into this year’s postseason is in major jeopardy. Who knows, perhaps Lindback can be this postseason’s Antti Niemi as he became backup-turned-starter over Cristobal Huet just prior to the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup run in 2010. Either way, Bolts fans will continue to pray that is the case if more bad news is to come from Bishop’s upper-body injury.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles