Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop has stiff competition to win the NHL’s Vezina Award this season, but as he showed in a 33-save, 2-1 win over the New York Rangers Tuesday night in Manhattan, Bishop is serving notice to Vezina frontrunners such as Boston’s Tuukka Rask, Minnesota’s Josh Harding and late-charging Sabres star Ryan Miller: with due respect to captain Martin St-Louis, he’s Tampa Bay’s MVP in the absence of superstar Steven Stamkos and isn’t letting the disappointment of not making the American Olympic team affect his effectiveness – and a continued push to reign supreme among all NHL puck-stoppers.
Bishop had missed the Bolts’ previous four games with a wrist injury, but against the Blueshirts remained the dominant force he was before being sidelined – allowing just one goal and more than holding serve against Rangers counterpark Henrik Lundqvist. The 27-year-old Bishop now has the NHL’s best save percentage (.937) and second-best goals-against average (1.83) to go along with his 23-5-3 record and four shutouts. Of those 23 wins, 22 have come with Bishop allowing two or fewer goals. And Bishop has only allowed more than two goals five times all year. Small wonder the Lightning haven’t needed Stamkos’ offensive talents.
Having said all that makes it all the more shocking Bishop wasn’t named to the U.S. Olympic roster ahead of Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard. Bishop’s numbers across the board are better than Howard’s, and although the Detroit goalie hasn’t been completely healthy and neither would be likely to play ahead of presumptive Sochi Games starter Jonathan Quick, it’s nearly as much of an insult Bishop isn’t on America’s team as it is St-Louis isn’t a member of Canada’s squad. On merit alone, Bishop deserves to be there.
Bishop has another year on his contract remaining after this one at the same $2.3 million cap hit he carries this season, but that price at least will double when he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015. But who’s kidding who – if he continues performing at this level, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman will have his name on a long-term contract extension well before then. This is the goalie star Yzerman has been looking for since he arrived in Tampa Bay. And no Olympic snub or short-term physical issue looks formidable enough to knock Bishop out of the starter’s role.
Yes, Stamkos will be the focus when he returns to action, but let’s not pretend the Lightning are a one-or-two-trick pony anymore. Bishop is proving that untrue.