Lightning hope for long-term returns in Bishop

TAMPA, Fla. — Ben Bishop wanted this night to be as normal as possible. The intrigue was obvious — the Tampa Bay Lightning’s new goalie faces his former team six days after a trade — but he wanted little part of that story line. The predictable was too dull, too mundane, too unlike him.

So Bishop simplified things, and observing the 6-foot-7 netminder, it’s easy to see why.

He spent the better part of a four-minute give-and-take with local and Canadian media Tuesday morning offering a glimpse at a more complete profile of him, one free of exaggeration and sugarcoated compliments.

He said there would be some feeling of nostalgia playing the Ottawa Senators, the team he spent parts of the past two seasons with, but he would consider them just another opponent once the puck dropped and his adrenaline peaked.

He said he would consider Kyle Turris, Sergei Gonchar, Daniel Alfredsson and other former teammates-turned-foes “to be the enemy out there” once pregame goodwill became in-the-moment heat.

“After the game, we’re going to be able to say ‘Hi,’ ” Bishop said before making 31 saves in a 3-2 victory over Ottawa at Tampa Bay Times Forum. “But during the game, it’s going to be all business.”

This is what the Lightning have in Bishop: a collected, all-business talent in front of the net, one vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman hopes is the answer to goaltending problems that have placed Tampa Bay on the verge of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.

The trade was made with thoughts of not only pushing for the postseason this year — that looks more unlikely by the hour — but also with the future in mind. Future returns are how this deal should be evaluated, of course, but the Lightning could use the help in a hurry.

Look, something had to be done. In many ways, Tampa Bay has wasted superb seasons by Steven Stamkos (26 goals and 50 points) and Martin St. Louis (49 points) with sub-par play near the net (they ranked in the bottom third of the league in goals allowed by surrendering 2.92 per game). If the Lightning indeed miss the playoffs, they will reflect on this winter as a missed opportunity.

In time, Bishop could prove to be the answer to help cure some defensive ills, alongside fellow goalies Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon. Then again, he might not. For now, though, any move to improve in the area should be welcomed.  

“It speaks volumes about his composure as a goaltender,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the victory Tuesday. “So he goes into his first game with us and pitches a 45-save shutout (vs. Carolina Hurricanes last Thursday). Then he comes into his first home game against his former team and beats them. So you can’t say enough about his confidence and composure. He’s the big wall back there.”

This early after the trade, which cost Tampa Bay center Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick, Cooper is obviously confident in Bishop. The coach said the goalie’s composure is his greatest trait. Bishop’s build makes him a formidable threat — he’s said to be the tallest goalie in NHL history — and it will be interesting to see how he evolves in the role.

It will also be revealing to see if this stop will elevate his career. He arrived in Ottawa before the 2011-12 season after two unremarkable campaigns with the St. Louis Blues, who selected him 85th overall in the 2005 draft. (He played 13 games total from 2008-09 and 2010-11.) The 17 games played this season are a career-high, seven more than his previous career mark set in the 2011-12 campaign.

So in many ways, the union between Bishop and Tampa Bay can be one of mutual benefit. The Lightning need someone who can patch leaky protection that has caused them trouble all season. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay provides Bishop a chance to show that he can become an effective option behind the net.

Will the partnership work? Some in Ottawa hint that it might.

“He has just been solid,” Senators coach Paul MacLean said of Bishop. “He has just been a real professional. I think his work ethic was very good. His ability to play and respond under pressure was very good. He was nothing but very good to the Ottawa Senators.”

Former teammates thought so as well.

“The biggest thing with Bishop is that he’s just a great guy in the locker room,” Ottawa winger Chris Neil said. “He’s always got a smile on his face, a happy guy. He kept it loose in the room, and it was great. … You come in the morning and you’re having a bad day, and you see that big goofy smile on his face, and it just lightens you right up. Tampa is lucky to get a guy like that.”

The Lightning also hope they’re savvy … and right with this bet on Big Ben.

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