Deprived of Steven Stamkos since November 11, the Tampa Bay Lightning have clung to third place in the Eastern Conference with a mixture of perseverance and superb goaltending. So far that goaltending has been provided by Ben Bishop, who left Sunday night’s game in Edmonton with a hand injury. The last thing Tampa needs is a Ben Bishop injury. According to the team, Bishop’s hand will be evaluated today, and back-up Anders Lindback is set to start tomorrow night against the Winnipeg Jets.
Acquired from Ottawa last season in exchange for Cory Conacher, Bishop has been enjoying a breakout season in Tampa Bay. His .935 save-percentage is the best in the league among regular starters, and his 1.86 goals-against average is just as impressive.
Bishop hasn’t just made a case for Vezina consideration in the season’s first half. His heroic efforts with Stamkos rehabbing a broken leg make him a viable midseason candidate to be the first Hart Trophy-winning goalie since Jose Theodore in 2002. His 22 wins are second only to Marc-Andre Fleury‘s 24, and he’s dropped just five starts in regulation.
Undefeated in regulation since December 3, Bishop looked like a very attractive option for the recently named American Olympic squad. Despite out-performing all other candidates in recent months, he was passed over in favor of Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller and Jimmy Howard due to concerns over his lack of playoff experience.
Team USA GM David Poile was likely questioning the snub as Bishop shutout the Calgary Flames on January 3, just two days after the American roster was announced. However, word of the Ben Bishop injury may reprieve US Olympic officials.
According to ESPN, Lightning bench-boss Jon Cooper failed to produce a clear prognosis for his netminder, saying “It’s hard to speculate. I don’t know what the injury is, but I don’t think it’s going to be major serious. I hope not anyway.”
With Anders Lindback in net, the Lightning are just 3-8-1, suggesting that Tampa is in for a rough stretch. The Bolts were in prime position to catch the banged-up Bruins atop the Atlantic Division this week. Boston is about to begin a brutal west coast swing that includes visits to Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. Instead of overtaking Boston, Tampa might find themselves trying simply to tread water.
The 25-year-old Lindback went 10-10-1 as Tampa’s starter last season, and he has just one win since Thanksgiving. It’s hard to imagine him propping up the Lightning for long.
Now without their two most important players, the Lightning are in a very precarious position. A long absence from Bishop might send the team plunging to the playoff bubble or beyond.