Ben Bishop blanked the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, and was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season. Yet there’s a belief among many scouts and pundits that he’s not even the best goaltender on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
We might find out if that’s true on Monday.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper not only wouldn’t reveal who is starting goaltender will be for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, he said even he didn’t know who it will be. Bishop left Game 2 twice in the third period with an apparent injury. He traveled with the team to Chicago on Sunday, but his status is up in the air.
That could leave 20-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy making his first career playoff start (he has made three relief appearances this postseason) in a tied Final in front of a hostile United Center crowd on Monday. The Blackhawks insisted that it didn’t matter, that their game plan remains the same regardless of who’s in net. The Lightning said the same thing, players raving about Vasilevskiy’s poise, athleticism and work ethic in the wake of his brief, but clutch five-save victory in relief in Game 2.
Teuvo Teravainen, who became just the fifth rookie to score in the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final, was actually drafted one spot ahead of Vasilevskiy (18th and 19th) in the first round of the 2012 draft. They’ve crossed paths in Europe.
“I don’t really care who’s going to be in the net,” Teravainen said. “I know they’re good goalies, both. I’ve played against Vasilevskiy twice with the international team, so I know him a little bit. I think I’ve scored on him before, too.”
Cooper was being coy with the press on Sunday — he pointed out it was the 11th anniversary of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup win in 2004, and joked he was staying mum in honor of that team’s combative coach, John Tortorella — but said even he didn’t know if Bishop would be ready to go on Monday. If not, Tampa Bay has confidence that Vasilevskiy can handle it. The Russian was 7-5-1 with a .918 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average during the regular season, and he’s awfully inexperienced, but he’s considered one of the top young goalie prospects in the world.
“We feel very safe with Vasilevskiy in the net, if that’s going to be the case,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He’s proven at every level that he’s a winner, and he’s one of the best goalie prospects in a lot of years. And we’ve seen him battle throughout games this year. We’ll see what happens, but we have two great goaltenders that can win games for us.”
The starter might not be clear until warmups — Bishop doesn’t always participate in morning skates, even when healthy — so the Hawks will have to prepare for both Bishop and Vasilevskiy. Just the latest twist in what’s already proving to be a fascinating Final.
“I think you approach any goalie the same way,” Brent Seabrook said. “I’m sure if [Vasilevskiy starts], the coaches will look into it [to learn] more than what we know about him. But it’s just sort of along the same lines as playing either goalie. They’re both big, both great goaltenders. We’ve just got to try to find ways to put the puck in the net.”