Sports Hockey

NHL PLAYOFFS

Lightning gets late goal to take lead in Stanley Cup final

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

CHICAGO - 

When it was all over, when they had thoroughly muzzled the Madhouse on Madison, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop shared a well-deserved embrace in the Tampa Bay Lightning goal crease.

Hedman made sure he was careful. There were no bearhugs here. The towering defenceman wasn’t about to crush his fragile goalie. No reason to injure him more than he already was.

And with the Lightning just two victories away from a Stanley Cup championship, Hedman and his teammates certainly can not afford to be without their No. 1 goalie, whose start in Game 3 was in doubt right up until the hours leading up to the opening faceoff.

In the end, Hedman’s brilliant rush at 16:49 of the third period resulted in a perfect setup for Cedric Paquette, who scored the winning goal to give the visiting Lightning a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Hedman definitely was a star on this night, having sprung Ryan Callahan with a highlight-reel feed early in the game for Tampa Bay’s first goal.

But none of this would have come to pass had it not been for the heroics of Bishop, who stopped 36 of 38 shots while at times appearing as if he needed a pair of crutches to help boost him off the ice.

Prior to the game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper had a one-on-one with Bishop, a meeting to determine if he’d be able to go.

“You can look into a player’s eyes and see if there is any doubt in them,” Cooper said.

There wasn’t.

“This kid really wanted the net,” Cooper said.

He got it.

And what the Lightning got in return was a performance that redefined the term “taking one for the team.”

It was obvious Bishop was “labouring.” Don’t just take our word for it. That’s the phrase used by Hawks coach Joel Quenneville.

And yet, the Lightning continued to stand by their man, even though you could almost hear the kid’s bones creaking every time he made a stop.

“People are talking about him slow to get up and down but he’s 6-foot-7 so it takes him a little bit longer to get up than most guys.” Cooper said afterward. “We wouldn’t put somebody in there if we were putting him in harm’s way. He’s fine...”

With the Lightning now holding a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven Stanley Cup final heading into Game 4 Wednesday, we’ll soon see if he’s “fine.” What he is, is someone whose got a lot of guts, one whose teammates look up to.

“This is the Stanley Cup final,” Bishop said. “It’s going to take a lot to keep me out of that.”

The Lightning remain elusive as to the nature of whatever is hindering Bishop.

This is the same Bishop who had been forced to leave the ice twice in the third period of Game 2, replaced on each occasion by Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Hours earlier, the press had peppered him with questions about the nature of his issue and whether he’d play. His answers were short and useless.

Finally, he apologized.

“I feel like Marshawn Lynch right now,” he said, referring to the evasive interviews often given by the Seattle Seahawks star.

Welcome to the gamesmanship of the 2015 Stanley Cup final.

Whatever the case, the Blackhawks game plan seemed clear: Shoot from anywhere. Make Bishop move. And if he was injured, make him hurt even more.

Message received.

The Hawks peppered 19 shots at Bishop in the first period. From the slot. From the point. From the boards. Had the Zamboni entrance door been open, they probably would have unleashed a few from the corridor, too.

Most of the surge came after the Lightning had taken a 1-0 lead just 5:09 into the game thanks to a brilliant Hedman pass that unleashed Callahan, who drilled a perfect shot off the cross bar and in past goalie Corey Crawford. It marked the third time in three games that the Lightning had opened the scoring.

Unperturbed by Callahan’s marker, the Hawks rebounded to unleash 15 consecutive shots at Bishop. Ironically, the only goal to beat him was a Brad Richards point shot that seemed to go off his glove and in. It was a whiff that tied the game 1-1.

In the second period, the Hawks’ Brandon Saad cut in front of Bishop and, while trying to stuff the puck into the net, elbowed the goalie in the head. Saad went to the penalty box for goalie interference. Bishop went down as if he’d been shot.

Finally, after being attended to by the trainers, he was helped up and continued in the game.

After Saad put the Hawks ahead in the third, Ondrej Palat tied the game. Then with less than five minutes left, Paquette scored the winner.

On most nights, Paquette would have been the game’s first star.

Then again, on most nights, you wouldn’t find such a valiant performance like the one turned in by Bishop.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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