Sunday, 15 May 2016

Lightning gets good news on banged-up Ben Bishop

PITTSBURGH - What a difference a night’s sleep in the Steel City made to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s lineup prospects.

The Bolts awoke Saturday to good news regarding injured goaltender Ben Bishop, who left the previous night’s game on a stretcher after wrenching his left knee early in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.

After X-rays came back negative late Friday and Bishop felt better Saturday morning, the team listed the Vezina Trophy finalist’s status as day-to-day.

“Everything has been really good so far on Ben,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said on Saturday. “Much better news than the scene we saw, what happened when he was carted off.”

Cooper cautioned that there is no decision on whether Bishop will be back in the Lightning net for Game 2 here on Monday night, but the fact that he’s on the mend and appears to have survived the scare is a big development for the reigning conference champs.

So too was news that Ryan Callahan will not be subject to further league discipline for his violent hit from behind on Penguins defenceman Kris Letang in the first period on Friday.

Meanwhile, if the Lightning is forced to use backup Andrei Vasilevskiy on Monday, the team has little worry. Vasilevskiy got a taste of playoff hockey a year ago, coming on in relief of Bishop and getting the win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.

“I know it was a year ago, but for someone as young as he is, he’s already played in a Stanley Cup final and he was called on in the biggest moments last year,” Cooper said. “There’s cliches thrown around all the time, guys who are the first to the rink and last to leave, but with that kid, it’s actually true.

“If there’s one thing that Vasilevskiy will never be knocked for, it’s for preparation and work ethic. That’s in his DNA.”


The Penguins don’t expect to have their players pasted to the boards and risk injury as witnessed Friday night when Letang was clocked by Callahan. But they do expect opponents to attempt to limit their quickness and speed.

“Part of the game is physical play,” Pens coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ve been used to this for three months now. Most teams that try to play us, they try to use aggression against our foot speed, our quickness, some of the sill that we have. So it’s not something that our players aren’t ready for or expect.”

The Pens work on puck retrieval drills regularly during practice to help prepare for aggressive and physical fore checking opponents.

“We know what’s coming,” Sullivan said. “We have strategies that we employ that we can use to try to beat that pressure. How we practice it, how we prepare for it … we’ve been doing that for quite some time now.”


With more ice time and confidence (both in himself and expressed by his coach), Lightning winger Jonathan Drouin continues to produce.

A nice one-timer on Friday night that gave the Lightning a big 3-0 lead was the latest strike from Drouin, who was suspended from the team for not reporting to an AHL game and later asked to be traded.

In 11 post-season games, Drouin has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) and has already matched his regular-season production, when he produced four goals and six assists in 21 games.


When Vasilevskiy came on in relief of Bishop on Friday, it created a situation where both goaltenders in the game were 21 years old. For context, according to Elias, it was just the fourth time in 35 years that both netminders in a playoff game were age 21 in younger and the first that it happened this deep in the playoffs.

The others:

1985 - Tom Barrasso (Buffalo, age 20) vs. Mario Gosselin (Quebec, 21).

1986 - Bill Ranford (Boston, 19) vs. Patrick Roy (Montreal, 20.)

1987 - Bill Ranford (Boston, 20) vs. Patrick Roy (Montreal, 21.)


Now just three wins away from advancing to the Cup final for a second consecutive year, it’s clear the Lightning is feeding off the experience of last spring.

Whether it’s responding to injuries or difficult situations within games or series, nothing seems to phase this group.

“It’s just being in those situations before, how we respond,” Cooper said. “How you deal with all the unknown circumstances that can happen.

“I think our guys, they’ve passed every test. Unfortunately we fell two wins short last year (losing the Cup final to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.) But I think those experiences have (made) our team closer. It’s really gratifying to watch these guys go.”


Your daily statistical probability note on this series: teams that have won Game 1 of the conference final are 67-29 all time (.698.) … Lost amongst the mayhem on Friday was Sidney Crosby’s 83rd career playoff assist to move him past Jaromir Jagr (82) into solo second place in franchise history. Mario Lemieux is the leader with 96 … Statistically, the Penguins had a significant edge in a couple of key categories from Game 1 — shots (35-20) and faceoffs won (35-23.) … The Pens are now 21-15 all time in Game Ones at home.

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