You've got to hand it to Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper. The man is doing his very best to stage manage his team ahead of their Game 5 performance against the New York Rangers. But in his efforts to take the pressure off starting goalie Ben Bishop, he's painted a target on another important Lightning player.
Bishop will feel the white-hot Broadway spotlight on Sunday when he gets the start again for the Lightning, after surrendering five goals in each of his last two games against the Rangers.
But now, thanks to Cooper's pre-game comments, Bishop will share the glare of the spotlight with Ryan Callahan.
Cooper told reporters ahead of Game 5 that he expects Callahan to break his scoring slump and pot one against his old team on Sunday.
"Tonight's the night he's going to score," Cooper said.
No pressure, right?
Callahan has had a disappointing 2015 playoffs, with just three assists in 16 games. He came into the playoffs with 24 goals and 54 points in the regular season, but his struggles saw him reduced to 12:51 of ice time in Game 4 - his lowest time on ice yet.
So you could say he's due to score. But you'd be smarter to say he won't.
The former Rangers captain will now have all eyes on him as he tries to score on ex-teammate Henrik Lundqvist, who regained his all-world form last game. Sure, The Bolts put six past Lundqvist in Game 2 and again in Game 3, but the Swedish netminder is unlikely to let that happen again.
Those two blowouts aside, Lundqvist has been scary good in these playoffs, holding his opponents to one goal in nine of 16 post-season games.
Nine of 16 games. That means more than half the time, teams only get one puck past him.
Now imagine you’re Callahan, who has 14 goals in 79 playoff games, and none as a member of the Lightning.
You’d probably be squeezing the stick pretty tight if you were him tonight.
And none of this takes the pressure off Ben Bishop, either. He needs to bounce back from two leaky performances on home ice, and he’ll be doing it with a dialed-in Lundqvist at the other end of the rink.
Cooper came to Bishop’s defense yesterday, dismissing the suggestion he might swap out his starter for backup Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“For the most part, 'Bish' has been rock-solid for us,” Cooper said. He praised the playoff rookie for his ability to keep the Lightning in games this post-season, and called it “asinine” to suggest he would give up on the big netminder now.
And he has a point. The Lightning haven’t been doing much to protect their goaltender, and they can’t expect to outscore their defensive shortcomings every night against a goalie like Lundqvist.
“You can’t keep giving up so many goals. That’s the main thing,” Valtteri Filppula said on Saturday. “I don’t think we need to change too many things. Just play better defensively.”
The Lightning are expected to have Matt Carle back in the lineup tonight, but he won't solve all their defensive problems.
Ultimately, Bishop will have to step into the New York spotlight and shine like he did during a 29-save performance in Game 1.
“He’s a great goaltender and we lean on him a lot,” Cooper said. “There’s a brighter light on him, and all he’s done is pass every test.”