It was hard not to think the worst when Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop was writhing in pain on the ice during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final. However, it turns out Bishop could be back before anyone expected.
After informing media that x-rays and MRIs came back negative, Bishop said he was in good enough shape to be considered day-to-day. Add that to the fact he was seen walking with only a slight limp, was able to get out to talk to media with little difficulty and took part in a short skate ahead of Game 2 and it appears that Bishop could be back at some point during the Eastern Conference final.
He won’t, however, be back for Game 3. Bishop did take the ice in full equipment ahead of Wednesday’s game, but he left before the full team skate and coach Jon Cooper said the Tampa Bay starter will miss at least one more outing. According to the Tampa Bay Times' Joe Smith, Cooper added he was hopeful Bishop would be back in full practice Thursday, which meshes with what the Lightning bench boss said Tuesday when he told media he was “optimistic” about Bishop’s potential return.
“Ultimately, whether it's one day, two days, or three days (off), if he's ready to go, he's ready to go,” Cooper said Tuesday. “I don't think an extra day is going to help out. But he's making progress every day. So hopefully, we'll see him soon.”
If Bishop can make it back, and at full health, soon, that would be a boon for the Lightning. It’s not that 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy was shaky in his play throughout the remainder of Game 1 and into Game 2 — he stopped 63 of the 67 shots he faced — but rather that Bishop has been lights out this season. Over the course of his 61 appearances during the regular season, Bishop turned in six shutouts, a 2.06 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He’s only improved in the post-season.
Through 11 appearances, Bishop has eight wins, two shutouts, a 1.85 GAA and .939 SP. Bishop is the top netminder of those still alive in the playoffs in every category but wins, and he could have been tied or leading that category had he remained healthy through Game 1 and into Game 2.
Bishop’s injury marks the third-consecutive post-season in which he has had to deal with injury. During the 2013-14 playoffs, Bishop missed all four playoff games for the Lightning as they were swept by the Montreal Canadiens. He followed that up by suffering a torn groin in the Stanley Cup final in 2014-15, and is now dealing with what he called a “lower leg” injury that will now cost him at least two full games in the conference final.