Over the course of this season, there’s been no doubt that goaltender Ben Bishop has been the Tampa Bay Lightning’s most valuable player. Time and time again, he’s come up huge for this team and kept them in games in which they had no business winning. Monday night at Amalie Arena was no exception.
Bishop stopped all 34 shots he faced in picking up his sixth shutout of the season, a new single-season high for him, as the Lightning picked up a valuable two points in a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re now tied with the Florida Panthers atop the Atlantic Division, as both teams have 93 points. However, Florida has a game in hand and holds the tiebreaker at the moment. It was the 38th time this season that Bishop has allowed two or fewer goals in a game, improving his record to 27-10-1 in such contests. Washington’s Braden Holtby has been considered the Vezina Trophy favorite throughout the season, but there’s no denying Bishop’s value to this team and the fact that he has to be a strong contender for the award. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper summed it up perfectly after the game.
“Let’s put it this way. There are team shutouts and there are goalie shutouts. Let’s take a guess at which shutout that was,” said Cooper.
Bishop had to be brilliant from the start. Throughout much of the opening 10 minutes of the first period, the Leafs looked like the team that was fighting for a playoff spot, as they spent much of that time in the Lightning’s zone, dominating in puck possession, shots on goal, and quality chances, as Bishop had to stand on his head early on. Just 2:29 into the game, Erik Condra took a slashing penalty and the ensuing power play was a shooting gallery for Toronto, as they peppered Bishop with shot after shot, one of which was denied by the Lightning’s All-Star netminder on a strong candidate for Save of the Year. The Leafs’ P.A. Parenteau had the puck along the left wing boards and fired a pass to William Nylander in the slot. Nylander waited and sent a pass to Brad Boyes, who was positioned to Bishop’s right. Bishop had come out to challenge Nylander and was out of position, but was able to reach back with his stick and make a sensational stick save on Boyes that kept the game scoreless. The shots were 8-1 in favor of Toronto about five-and-a-half minutes into the contest. Despite being thoroughly outplayed early on, the Lightning were able to go up 1-0 on just their third shot of the game thanks to a Mike Blunden goal at the 7:34 mark. Victor Hedman was behind the Tampa Bay net and started the play with a long stretch pass that was just out of the reach of Condra. However, Condra was able to beat the Leafs’ defenders to the puck to negate the icing, and threw the puck in front to Blunden. Blunden then one-timed a shot past Leafs goalie Garret Sparks for his third of the year.
At the 12:19 mark, Ondrej Palat took a tripping penalty, and the Leafs had an 11-4 edge in shots. On the ensuing power play, the Lightning were able to hold the Leafs without a shot, and when Palat got out of the box, the momentum began to shift in Tampa Bay’s favor. Steven Stamkos carried the puck into the Leafs’ zone into the right circle and fired a shot on net that Sparks stopped, knocking the puck straight into the air. With baseball’s Opening Day looming on the horizon, Palat channeled his inner Evan Longoria (who was in the building tonight), batting the puck out of mid-air into the net for a 2-0 Bolts lead with 5:30 left. Jason Garrison also earned an assist on the goal. That tally not only gave Tampa Bay the lead, but it also gave them some extra pep in their step, as they ended the period with multiple chances from their top two lines, as Toronto went into the first intermission with only a 13-10 edge in shots after taking 11 of the first 14 shots to start the game.
In the second period, Bishop found a way to elevate his game to an even higher level, as the Lightning continued to be plagued by poor play in their own end, defensive breakdowns, and turnovers. About two minutes into the period, Nazem Kadri took a pass on a rush and skated into the slot, shifted to his backhand, and put a shot on net that Bishop got a piece of before it hit the post. The Lightning went on a power play and had a couple of solid chances from Jonathan Marchessault and Palat, but the Leafs killed it off. Toronto then followed it up with another couple of solid chances, only to see Bishop stifle them again, most notably on another open backhander from the slot, this one by Zach Hyman. Despite their scoring chances being few and far between, Tampa Bay managed to extend their lead to 3-0 when Condra carried the puck into the Toronto zone and dropped it for Stamkos. Stamkos then spun away from a Leafs’ defender and sent a beautiful cross ice pass to Hedman, who came streaking up the left wing, skated into the left circle, and sniped a beautiful wrist shot top-shelf past Sparks for his eighth goal of the season at the 6:38 mark. Toronto had a couple more power plays in the period, but were unable to take advantage. Vlad Namestnikov then got behind the Leafs’ defense, but lost control of the puck when it looked like he got slashed. With under three minutes to go in the period, Bishop made a trio of saves on a furious flurry by the Maple Leafs, including another save on Kadri, who was open in front of the net and had his backhander turned aside. By this point, Cooper had mixed up his lines trying to get something going for the Lightning, who carried a 3-0 lead into the second intermission despite being outshot 27-14.
The Lightning had a solid chance early in the third period as Valtteri Filppula and Alex Killorn had a 2-on-1 break, but Killorn fired the puck high. Tampa Bay’s parade to the penalty box continued as Filppula was called for tripping, and immediately after that penalty was killed off, Braydon Coburn went to the box for elbowing, followed by a delay of game penalty on Brian Boyle that resulted in a quick 5-on-3. Toronto nearly got on the board as Bishop was caught out of position, but a shot from the high slot hit traffic in front and bounced out of harm’s way. With only the Boyle penalty to kill off, Filppula and Killorn found themselves on another 2-on-1, but Killorn was tripped by Morgan Rielly, bringing the Leafs’ man-advantage to an end. Tampa Bay would go on to kill off all seven Toronto power plays they faced tonight. However, the Lightning were still playing back on their heels and didn’t get a shot on goal in the final period until the 8:39 mark. JT Brown and Stamkos had chances to add to their lead, but were unable to take advantage. Late in the game, Blunden and Boyle got into a huge scrum with several Leafs players, exchanging plenty of pleasantries before the final horn sounded. The final shot totals ended up being 34-18 in favor of Toronto, but due to Bishop’s heroics, the Lightning were able to bounce back from Saturday’s defeat.
Tampa Bay will play the fifth game of their six-game homestand on Thursday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens at Amalie Arena at 7:30 pm.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1st Star: Ben Bishop – Need I say more? Seriously, if it were possible to list the same player as the first, second, and third stars of this game, I would’ve done it.
2nd Star: Victor Hedman – Scored his eighth of the season to extend the Lightning’s lead to 3-0, and made a stretch pass that eventually led to Blunden’s goal that opened the scoring. It was Hedman’s team-high 36th assist of the season.
3rd Star: Steven Stamkos – Collected two assists, including a dazzling setup on Hedman’s goal that gave the Lightning the cushion that they needed. Stamkos now has 28 assists on the season to go along with his 36 goals.
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