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Lightning’s Bishop a show-stopper

CHICAGO – Just go ahead and knight Ben Bishop right now. After what we saw Monday in the United Center, the Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender deserves it.

Clearly struggling with some sort of leg/groin injury, Bishop gutted out a 36-save performance as the Lightning pulled out a 3-2 stunner over the Chicago Blackhawks before 22,336 howling, red-clad denizens.

But by the time it was over, they were quiet. The Lightning lead the series, 2-1, and the Hawks have dropped back-to-back games for the first time in this postseason.

It was another frenetic contest as the teams combined for 70 shots on goal, 38 from the Hawks. And the outcome wasn’t cemented until Cedric Paquette one-timed home a neat Victor Hedman pass to the slot to snap a 2-2 tie with just 3:11 left.

But this was all about Bishop, whose status in the net was up in the air all day.

It was as courageous a performance as anyone could remember in a Cup final. Bishop struggled to get to his feet when he would go down to his knees. There were times he stayed down in the crease and pretty much swam through it. He took a blow to the head in the second period from Brandon Saad, who was rightly nailed for goalie interference.

At 6-foot-7, Bishop is an adventure in net in normal times. His weak glove was again exposed by Brad Richards’ first-period goal. But he made plenty of plays in this one, kept his crease jockeying and wandering to a minimum and seemed to get stronger as the game went on. Maybe it was just adrenalin but it worked.

“I talked to him,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We’re not going to put anybody in the game when we have any concern of hurting himself. We talked long and hard about whether he could play tonight and you can see it in his eyes.”

“He looks like he got some issues,” grumbled Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “I thought later in the game we made it easier on him.”

Bishop made 18 saves in the first period as the Blackhawks outshot the Lightning, 19-7, and had 16 shots in a row over one 13-minute stretch. He got some help too as the Hawks missed a couple of yawning cages with Bishop out of position. Bishop’s teammates then clamped down, as Chicago had just 19 shots combined over the final 40 minutes.

Bishop, remember, darted off the ice twice in the third period of Game Two. It seemed like 20-year-old Russian rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy was coming into this one at any moment but it never happened. Bishop and Cooper had already decided the goalie was able to go.

“We talked a few times today, and we made a decision there before the game,” Bishop said. “It’s going to take a lot to not play a Stanley Cup final game, personally.”

“I guess he’s OK,” said a smiling Steven Stamkos. “Bishop was huge. And you need a guy like that in certain situations, when you’re not playing your best and we weathered the storm. We talked in between periods, 1-1, on the road, their first home game in the Stanley Cup final, we knew they were going to come out hard, so we just hit the reset button. We did that – and found a way.”

The Lightning gave Bishop the backing he needed with a terrific comeback in the third period. Saad scored on a Marian Hossa feed at 4:14 to put Chicago up, 2-1, but Tampa Bay scored 13 seconds later when Ondrej Palat jammed home a loose puck. That got the Lightning even and set them up to pull the game out on Hedman’s second sensational feed of the night.

Bishop’s performance capped a daylong bob-and-weave by the Lightning that started after the morning skate, when Bishop came to the NHL’s official interview room so a crowd at his locker didn’t choke the Lightning’s dressing room.

Bishop wouldn’t tell reporters if he would play. He wouldn’t say if he was injured or ill in Game Two. He didn’t say much of anything really in the couple of minutes he sat behind the microphone.

“I feel like Marshawn Lynch,” Bishop said as the media howled. Lynch, of course, uttered the “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” crack at the Super Bowl in February and it’s now forever entered into the lexicon of bizarre sports quotes.

(A smiling Bishop, however, apologized to the media when he got up to leave the room. A tad different than Lynch.)

Bishop came in after Cooper, who met reporters just as his team started skating. Cooper knew most of the media would pile inside to hear him and thus wouldn’t be watching what was taking place on the ice. Pretty sneaky.

“How many more ways are we going to ask this? I don’t know who’s starting,” Cooper said as reporters tried different ways to get information. Turns out he knew darn well.

Bishop’s injury, whatever it is, is obviously a huge concern. But Lightning fans have to be comforted by history, as the team winning Game Three of a tied Cup final has hoisted the silver 21 of the previous 26 times. And when the road team wins it to go up, 2-1? They’re 13-0.

The Lightning thrived on the road in these playoffs in hostile environs like Montreal’s Bell Centre and New York’s Madison Square Garden, so they weren’t fazed by the Madhouse on Madison.

The Blackhawks’ stars aren’t doing much, as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews remained without a goal for the third straight game. They did, however, have a combined seven shots on goal. Bishop stopped all of them.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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