Lightning silent about Ben Bishop's exit in Game 2

TAMPA, Fla. -- Goaltender Ben Bishop twice left the ice during Tampa Bay's 4-3 Game 2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, and the Lightning were mum afterward on exactly why.

The Lightning's Jon Cooper, known for being one of the most forthcoming coaches in the league, was uncharacteristically tight-lipped after his team evened the Stanley Cup finals.

At the beginning of his postgame news conference, he pre-empted the questions he knew were coming.

"I hate to be that guy," Cooper said. "I know I talk way too much when I get up here, but I will not answer a question about the goaltending or what happened tonight."

It was a bizarre scene in the third period, with Bishop exiting the game at 7:17 only to reappear on the Lightning bench shortly thereafter. Bishop re-entered the game at 8:49 before leaving again at 12:19, forcing backup netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes as the Lightning preserved their 4-3 lead.

Even the Lightning bench couldn't seem to keep the goaltending carousel straight.

"No one really knew what was going on. We were kind of listening to the announcements for who was in net for our team a couple of times," captain Steven Stamkos said. "But depth has been a part of our success all season, and it showed tonight in the net tonight as well."

Cooper said the team wasn't concerned about whether Vasilevskiy could handle the challenge.

"When Bish had to leave, there wasn't an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself," he said. "I mean, the kid proved it when he went in. He was great."

The Internet was abuzz with speculation after both of Bishop's exits. Some wondered whether it was due to an illness. Others wondered if he was cramping or battling dehydration. Some speculated he was battling through a pre-existing injury or that something happened during the game that caused him to leave.

There was contact between Bishop and Chicago's Antoine Vermette at one point Saturday. There was also a play during which Marian Hossa drove his stick into Bishop's pad before Tampa Bay's third goal, after which Bishop could be seen complaining to referees about goaltender interference. Such plays cannot currently be reviewed but may be next season, per proposed rule changes.

At one point, Bishop appeared to be having a lengthy talk with two of his defensemen -- Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman -- in the third period, though Stralman denied any sense that something was bothering Bishop.

"No, not really," Stralman said.

The 20-year-old Vasilevskiy, who was given credit for the Game 2 win, handled himself with poise when thrust into a difficult situation. He last played during a relief appearance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, stopping six of seven shots against the New York Rangers.

Vasilevskiy is only the fourth goaltender in 77 years to earn his first career playoff win in a Stanley Cup finals game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

His teammates said they were confident he could step up when called upon.

"We feel very safe with Vasilevskiy in the net, if that's going to be the case," Hedman said. "He's proven at every level that he's a winner, and he's one of the best goalie prospects in a lot of years. And we've seen him battle throughout games this year. We'll see what happens, but we have two great goaltenders that can win games for us."

Vasilevskiy, who stopped all five shots faced in 9:13 of ice time Saturday night, said he had no inkling that he might be needed to play.

"Every game I'm just ready," he said. "And if coach tell me to go in, I go in. That's it."

Stralman said he told Vasilevskiy to go out there and have fun, not knowing what was going through his head.

"Nervous? Maybe just a little bit, but after the first couple shots, I feel myself better," Vasilevskiy said. "Every game I'm ready, and I keep my head ready for the game and that's it."

Whether Vasilevskiy will be in the Lightning crease when the puck drops in Chicago for Game 3 on Monday night remains to be seen.

"They're both here for a reason. We just got to make sure that we communicate with Vasi if that's the case, support him as much as possible," said veteran defenseman Jason Garrison, who notched the game-winning goal at 8:49 of the third period. "If he is [playing Game 3], he's going to do a job for us. We're not worried about it."