Ben Bishop (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning won’t have Ben Bishop for Game 4. The Lightning goaltender said he’s “making progress,” but Andrei Vasilevskiy is likely to get the call in goal for Tampa Bay Friday night.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he was optimistic about the chances of starting netminder Ben Bishop returning during the Eastern Conference final, and even though Bishop has been taking part in practices and facing shots, it won’t be Game 4 that the 6-foot-7 netminder gets back between the pipes.
Bishop skated again Friday ahead of the fourth game of the conference final, but it was 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy who was first off the ice at the morning skate and who will get the call in goal for the Lightning as they seek to tie up the series. Bishop remained practicing after Vasilevskiy left the ice and again faced shots, but that doesn’t mean the veteran goaltender’s return is imminent.
“Today was better than yesterday,” Bishop, who has been out since falling injured in Game 1, said. “We’re making progress here. We’re getting closer.”
Getting closer, though, doesn’t ensure Bishop will be back for Game 5, and in a series that could be 3-1 for the Penguins heading back to Pittbsurgh, that could mean time is running out for both Bishop and the Lightning to turn this series around.
The worst part of all may be that even if Bishop were back, there’s no certainty his presence would do much at all for Tampa Bay. Through the past two games, the Penguins have been fantastic, using their speed and puck possession games to turn the Lightning defense and create quality scoring chance after quality scoring chance. The margin has been there statistically, too. Pittsburgh has outshot Tampa Bay 89-49 over the past two games and Vasilevskiy hasn’t really shown enough holes for goaltending to be the biggest concern for the Lightning.
Even still, Bishop’s return could provide somewhat of a boost for Tampa Bay. His 1.39 goals-against average and .939 save percentage over the course of the post-season are two of the very best totals in the league, and he was an incredibly worthy nominee for the Vezina Trophy for his regular season performance.
Bringing Bishop back too soon, though, could do just as much harm as good. During the 2015 playoffs, Bishop returned from a groin injury possibly earlier than he should have. It was clear Bishop was nursing his ailment over the course of the final two post-season games, even if he did only allow four goals against on 61 shots in those two contests. For the time being, though, there is no rushing back. Bishop said he’s simply trying to concentrate on getting healthy enough to play.
“You want to be out there helping the guys. It’s really just unfortunate,” Bishop said. “But at the same time, you can’t sit here and think about that. You just have to worry about getting better, focus all your energy on that and not worry about all the negatives.”