TAMPA – At this point in the Stanley Cup final, it appears the prospect of world peace hinges on the Tampa Bay Lightning keeping a complete secret Ben Bishop’s status for Game 5.
This much we know. Bishop took part in the morning skate, which means he might be playing. Had he not skated, he wouldn’t have been playing. We also know that progress is being made in the mysterious injury. Bishop made that clear during his availability after the skate. And lastly, we also know that for some reason, the Lightning thinks it can gain a competitive advantage by keeping everyone guessing about its goaltender’s status for tonight.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper’s news conference lasted less than 30 seconds and he left after just one question. When asked whether Bishop would be available for Game 5, Cooper said the following: “Uh, I don’t know. To be honest I haven’t seen him since he got off the ice. I hope I have a decision to make between him and Andrei (Vasilevskiy).”
When asked whether he would be available if the game were to start within an hour, Bishop said, “We have to talk. It’s not my decision. It’s the coach’s decision.” When asked whether he would make another appearance in this series, either tonight or in Game 6 or 7, he said, “I certainly hope so. Like I said, progress is being made from the beginning and hopefully it keeps getting better.”
Bishop and the Lightning are walking a fine line here. They both know the Lightning has its best chance to win with a healthy Bishop in the lineup. On the other hand, it’s debatable whether Bishop would have been the difference in the 2-1 loss in Game 4 and that Vasilevskiy, although not tested often, was good enough. Bishop undoubtedly wants to play, but realizes there is too much on the line for him to put himself in a game if he’s not ready.
“It’s a really tough decision, obviously, at this time of the year,” Bishop said. “It’s not about one person. When you get this far, you don’t want to hurt the team at all. You don’t want to be pulling back the team.”
Typically, the decision would be made well before the game, so if Bishop leads the Lightning out onto the ice for the pre-game warm-up, it’s a virtual certainty he will play. Bishop did not take part in the Lightning’s off-day practice Friday, but Cooper said that decision had already been made when Bishop was declared unavailable for Game 4.
Not entirely certain why the Lightning is treating all of this like a state secret. Really, is there any competitive advantage in keeping the Blackhawks guessing as to whether Bishop or Vasilevskiy will start? My guess is the Blackhawks have a lot more pressing matters - such as how they’re going to get through the rest of this series with three healthy defensemen and a hobbling Johnny Oduya or how they’re going to get any level of offense out of Patrick Kane – to care much about which guy is wearing the big pads at the other end of the ice. They’re an NHL team. They have an extensive book on both goalies. Knowing which one will be playing won’t make a bit of difference at this point.
Seems like an awful lot of effort and energy going into something that is going to be rather inconsequential at this point in the playoffs.