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Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Bolts' Bishop always on his toes

TAMPA — Teammates say the goaltender gabs during games.

Get up!

Gap up!

Get in there!

“He keeps us on our toes,” Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas said. “If he sees something going on in our zone, he tells us what to do. If somebody gets a little lost, he tries to lead a little.”

Ben Bishop, the tallest, clearest reason the Lightning are hockey's biggest surprise, has yet to let up. Go back all those years, his mother shouting for him to go easy on his kid brother, even something as innocent as a ball catch.

“I'd be throwing it as hard as I could,” Bishop said with a smile.

The guy still brings it. He'll do just that if he goes tonight against the Ottawa Senators, his old team. That it's Ottawa, which traded Bishop to the Lightning last April, probably doesn't matter at this point, since Bishop has already faced the Sens twice since the trade (2-0). Besides, when Bishop goes against anybody, he goes.

“I don't like losing, especially when you have a team that can win every night,” Bishop said. “A switch turns on in me when I come to the rink. ... I guess there's a little anger in my game.”

There's speculation that Bishop could be added to the U.S. Olympic team roster as a replacement now that Detroit's Jimmy Howard has re-injured his knee. As of Tuesday, Bishop, 27, hadn't heard from USA Hockey.

“Who knows what the list is?” he said. “There might be more guys in front of me. Who knows? It's not anything for me to think about. It would be something special, obviously, but it has nothing to do with me right now.”

Nor does Bishop being an open threat to win the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL's top goaltender. Big Ben has cleaned clocks: first in save percentage (.935), third in goals-against (1.93) and wins (24), second in shutouts (4).

“If you're giving that award out right now, I think you have to give it to him,” Lightning center Nate Thompson said.

What Bishop has done has been so startling that after a while we actually stopped asking when Steven Stamkos was coming back. He has been so good we're reminded what Lightning coach Jon Cooper said this season when asked about his success at all his coaching stops.

“My wife would tell you that it takes one understanding spouse, a loyal dog and one hell of a good goaltender,” Cooper said.

Lightning players and coaches marvel at Bishop's consistency, at just how he smooth he looks in net in his first full season as an NHL starting goalie.

“When he makes certain saves, it's almost like he's not trying,” Thompson said. “There's a calmness to him. It's infectious. It builds confidence for the rest of the team.”

There's more than calm. There's anger sometimes, and the competitor, always.

Last Saturday, pucks flew past Bishop in a loss to San Jose at the Forum, five goals off a guy who has rarely (just seven times in 36 games) coughed up more than two scores. Bishop responded the next day in Carolina. He wanted that start in a way that didn't invite discussion.

“The one thing about Ben is, when he gets pushed against the wall, the fire really comes out,” Cooper said.

Bishop made a club-record 48 saves in a win over the Hurricanes.

“He has an ability to park a bad moment,” Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean said. “But he hasn't had to park many of them. He's been that good.”

Having burst into flower, can Bishop handle the stretch, and the stretch that might follow that? He has never played in the NHL postseason.

“It's still the same game,” Bishop said. “I've played games in March and April. I was in Ottawa. We were in the playoff race after I got traded there. I think I played eight games in a row when we were in seventh, eighth place, and I played real well. It doesn't get any bigger than that, playing Toronto and Montreal and “Hockey Night in Canada”.

“It's still kind of in my first year as a starter, so I'm not looking ahead to anything. If you think about the rest of the season, about the Olympics, it's just a waste of time.”

Then come the games.

Switch on.

Everybody, on your toes.

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