CHICAGO — Ben Bishop apologized as he stepped away from the microphone. Seconds earlier he said he felt like Marshawn Lynch for repeating the same answers.
The Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender didn’t say anything about what forced him to leave Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks or how he was feeling. But after all the mystery, Bishop started Game 3 Monday night.
Bishop’s bizarre exit Saturday led to speculation that rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy might get the nod. That would not have been devastating given his pedigree.
“We have two capable goalies that we have 100 per cent confidence in,” coach Jon Cooper said.
That’s a world of difference from last year’s playoffs, when Bishop’s elbow injury make him unavailable to face the Montreal Canadiens. Cooper had little recourse but to turn to Anders Lindback, whose .881 save percentage led to a Kristers Gudlevskis appearance, but not until it was too late.
Cooper didn’t blame Lindback for getting swept in the first round.
“I truly believe if we had Ben Bishop in goal last year, I’m still not sure we win that series,” he said. “I will never sit here and say last year we lost because of our goaltending. We lost as a team.”
This season, Cooper said the Lightning have the luxury of Vasilevskiy being a “1A goaltender.”
“He’s going to be a star in this league one day,” Cooper said.
Vasilevskiy is one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey at the age of 20. He has world junior and KHL experience and also made 13 NHL starts this season.
While Bishop is the present for the Lightning in goal, Vasilevskiy looks like the future. Each appearance is a building block.
Cooper pointed to a 45-save performance in a 3-1 loss at the New York Islanders as a shining example of the young Russian’s potential.
“We should have lost 10-1,” Cooper said. “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.”
The Lightning scratched Jonathan Drouin for Game 3, with Cooper opting to dress seventh defenceman Nikita Nesterov and 11 forwards.
On the Blackhawks’ side, the changes came with far less mystery. Forward Bryan Bickell returned after a bout with vertigo and defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk got his first NHL action since November.
“I’ve definitely come a long way since called back up,” van Riemsdyk said. “Just being out there on the ice, just going through everything, it’s helped a lot. I feel way better than I did when I first got here after the wrist injury.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press