Bishop survives early scare to gut out Game 5 shutout

NEW YORK -- Ben Bishop's voice could have been a few octaves higher than normal after Sunday’s game, but it had nothing to do with his team’s win.

Bishop recorded a 26-save shutout performance to help the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden.

Speaking of square, the Tampa netminder was hit squarely "down there" during warm-ups and had to exit the ice prematurely to catch his breath.

"It didn’t feel good," he said with a smile after the victory that has the Lightning one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup finals. Game 6 is Tuesday in Tampa.

Teammate Nikita Nesterov shot the groin-seeking puck that forced Bishop to keel over in warm-ups. Bishop remained on the ice for a brief moment, slowly got to his feet, skated bent over once around the zone and then left the ice with six minutes remaining in warm-ups.

In the locker room afterward before the game, Nesterov said, "Sorry, bro."

Bishop admitted afterward it took him a while to catch his breath.

"Good thing there’s some time in between," he said with a laugh.

After allowing a combined 10 goals in the previous two games, Bishop responded with a big performance. Even though he allowed five goals in a 5-1 loss to the Rangers in Game 4, Bishop didn’t need any soul-searching. He claims there wasn’t any more motivation than normal.

“I was stopping the ones I needed to stop,” he said of Game 4. “Obviously, you’d like to make one of those saves, but sometimes the puck doesn’t bounce your way, and that’s what happens when you play 100 games in a season. Some nights you’re going to be good. Some nights you’re not going to be good. It was 'one of those nights,' was the way I took it, so I wanted to come out and play the same way.”

He made timely saves the entire night, and also received help from his teammates. The Lightning blocked 24 shot attempts and they had the bruises to prove it. Bishop described veteran forward Brian Boyle, who led the team with five blocks, as another goalie out there.

Tampa’s special teams proved crucial, too. The Lightning posted a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, while captain Steven Stamkos scored a power-play goal.

“We weren’t happy the last couple of games with how many scoring chances we were giving up. We looked at it,” Bishop said. "We talked about it and we did a better job tonight. Guys were coming up huge with blocking shots at the end."

It’s been a weird series for both Bishop and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist. They’ve allowed a lot of combined goals in this series, but both have responded when their respective teams needed them to the most.

“Even though what happened the last few games, I wasn’t discouraged,” Bishop said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing, but there was nothing drastically wrong. I just wanted to come out, play the same way and that was the result.”

Entering this series, there was a lot of focus on the idea that Lundqvist’s Stanley Cup playoffs experience would be a factor, especially since this is Bishop’s first trip. A season ago, he missed the postseason due to injury, but this spring he’s playing like a veteran.

“I was fortunate to be on a couple of teams as a backup to play in the playoffs, so you kind of get that experience," Bishop said. "Obviously, being around the team last year, so it’s really my fourth playoff, but first time actually starting. I had a little bit of experience coming in and how to deal with some of the highs and lows. That experience helped, but playingwise I’m just taking it as the regular season and not putting too much pressure on any games.”

Even after the tough games, he hasn’t been rattled.

“I’ve felt the same way all playoffs,” he said. “Except for the first game, I was a little nervous.”

Tampa coach Jon Cooper has seen this type of play from Bishop the entire postseason, with series wins over the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens.

“I would say he looked really confident in the net,” he said. “We’ve watched this in two previous series. As the series have gone on, and the longer they’ve gone on, he’s elevated his game.”

Cooper said Bishop commanded the net.

“We feed off that,” said the coach. “We have no doubt how he can play. With four teams that are left, you’re not getting here without good goaltending. All great goalies left and Bish is a top-tier goaltender in this league and he’s shown it.”