A look back for Big Ben
The 2013-2014 season was a turning point in the career of goalie, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning. For the first time in his career, he earned the number one spot for the team that employed him. Now that #1 spot was not handed to Big Ben at the start of last season.
After trading a young forward by the name of Cory Conacher to the Ottawa Senators for Bishop, Tampa General Manager, Steve Yzerman also had goalie Anders Lindback in the fold. Lindback, you may remember was backup in Nashville to Pekka Rinne. At the start of last season, new Coach Jon Cooper did not announce a starting goalie through the pre-season. In fact, Cooper, a former lawyer, used the non-answer answer of “having two starters” when asked who the #1 guy was.
Many Lightning fans thought at the time that Lindback was going to win the battle over the lesser known Bishop. Part of that feeling was a result of Cory Conacher. You see, Conacher was a favorite of many of the Tampa Bay faithful, reminding fans of a younger Marty St. Louis. When the season started, Anders Lindback was the starting goalie.
With their first three games on the road, Lindback and the Lightning lost the season opener to Boston by a score of 3 to 1. So, Cooper gave the nod to Bishop in game two at the United Center in Chicago and the Lightning won in a shootout 3-2. Riding the hot hand, Coop went with Bishop in the next game in Buffalo and Tampa eked out another 3-2 win against the Sabres.
Coming back to Tampa for the home opener against state rival, Florida, the Lightning with Bishop in net smoked the Panthers 7 to 2. In an effort to be fair, Cooper started Lindback against Pittsburgh in the next game and the team lost 5 to 4.
So, after five games, Lindback was 0 and 2 having saved only 43 shots of the 51 he faced for a .843 save percentage. Compared to Ben Bishop, who was 3 – 0 saving 77 of 83 shots in those games for a stellar .928 save percentage. Ladies and gentleman, your new starting goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning — Ben Bishop.
Bishop went on to play well enough to lead the Lightning to a playoff berth. Big Ben was also named one of the Vezina Trophy finalists. This is the trophy awarded to the league’s best goalie. Then the euphoria of this breakout season for Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning came crashing down in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 8th, 2014. Taking an awkward fall on a save, Bishop landed on his left elbow and immediately heard a pop. Dislocated elbow and Bishop was gone for the season including the playoffs.
As Bishop was preparing to head to Las Vegas last June for the NHL Awards, he reflected on the 2013-2014 season. At the time, he said “It almost feels like it was incomplete, that I didn’t get to finish it off, there’s still a lot of fuel. I’m ready to go right now.” This giant of a man at 6’7” was in the training room right after hurting his elbow. Between periods, his captain, Steven Stamkos gave him a hug. With that, Bishop started crying knowing what his loss meant to him and his team.
Without their starting goalie, the Tampa Bay Lightning were swept out of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in four games despite holding home ice advantage. Just as the fan base in Tampa was getting swept up in playoff excitement, the team was just getting swept out.
Back to the Present and Future
So, as this season began, Ben Bishop was in the frame of mind to prove something. To prove something to the NHL. To prove something to his teammates and to his organization. To prove it to the Lightning fan base that was growing exponentially after last year’s playoff run. To prove to Steve Yzerman that despite the initial unpopularity of the trade, that everyone would know the deal was a game changer for the Lightning organization. Most importantly, Bishop was determined to prove something to himself.
The something that he wanted to prove to everyone was that last year was not a fluke. That he earned the #1 goalie spot and deserved that position. He set out to prove that the Vezina finalist performance was the beginning of setting himself apart as one of the elite goalies in the NHL. For the last couple of years, it seems from a national perspective, the only notoriety he receives is that he is the tallest goalie in the NHL. At 6 feet 7 inches, the tallest person ever to play goalie in the NHL.
Bishop wanted his performance and not his unusually tall height to set him apart from his peers. If his production last year began to change that mindset, his accomplishments this year solidified his stature in the NHL. He set a personal high and team record of 40 wins. While his Goal Against Average was slightly higher than last year, the team won more games than the season before.
Most importantly for Bishop and his fellow Lightning, he was 100% healthy going into the playoffs. In the Round 1 series with Detroit, with home ice and a sellout crowd at Amalie Arena, Ben Bishop came out and laid a bit of an egg. Gave up a couple of goals to Detroit’s ageless Pavel Datsyuk as well as a fairly soft back handed goal to Luke Glendening to take the game one loss.
Tampa fans had to wonder: Holy cow! We waited a whole season for this? But Ben Bishop set himself right. Most people forget that as a result of missing the 2014 playoffs, Bishop also missed his first opportunity for the NHL post season. So, game one against the Red Wings was Bishop’s debut in the NHL playoffs. Chalk it up to opening night jitters. He came back in game two and won four of the next six games against the tough Detroit Red Wings.
On to Montreal for the revenge series, this time without home ice advantage. No matter, in the first two games at the Bell Centre, Bishop was lights out. Saving 58 of the 61 shots for a .951 Save Percentage. Definitely out playing this year’s presumed Vezina Trophy winner in Carey Price. Bishop is showing the NHL world what he set out to prove – that he is an elite goalie.
Bishop has heard the naysayers. In the Detroit series, network analysts began calling him shaky after a couple of goals including one he batted in himself. If it is affecting him, Bishop isn’t showing it to his teammates or to the opponents. He currently is giving up 1.71 goals per game through 9 games. His overall save percentage in that time is now .933. That may not impress some but after that game one loss to Detroit, he started in the hole with a .786 save percentage. He has won 6 of his last 8 games.
The NHL playoffs are not quite at the halfway point and there is a lot of hockey to play. For Ben Bishop, it appears that he has found his groove and is determined to give his team the best shot he can at winning the Stanley Cup. As tall as he is, Bishop covers a lot of net and makes it difficult for opposing snipers to find the holes. The hotter Bishop gets, the smaller those holes will seem to all of the Lightning opponents. The weight on his shoulders it seems was put there by Bishop himself. It would appear like many greats in many different fields, he is his own worst critic. He is still determined to prove a lot and as a part of that, could very well be holding a broom instead of his goalie stick at the end of the Montreal series.
Born in Chicago, Illinois. Grew up playing and loving sports. Spent most of my formative years playing, debating, arguing and talking sports. for the last couple of years I have written about hockey. I am currently a Tampa Bay Lightning contributor for The Hockey Writers. I know that I may not always be right, but I am passionate about hockey and it is damn hard to hide that passion in my writing.