NEW YORK — With pucks zipping around the boards, bodies flying around the crease and chaos ensuing all around, Ben Bishop took a small stride to slide out to the top of his crease to snare a 52-foot slap shot from Derrick Brassard with his glove.
In a moment of serenity, Bishop stood there, glove outstretched with the puck protected in the webbing, calmly and confidently making sure everybody around him knew he had the situation under control as the Rangers made a late power-play push.
In his first game back since suffering a sprained wrist on Jan. 5, Bishop took on the staring role for the Lightning against the Broadway Blue Shirts stopping 33 shots as Tampa Bay knocked off the New York Rangers 2-1 in front of an announced crowd of 18.006 at Madison Square Garden.
Victor Hedman scored his 10th goal of the season, tied for the league lead among defenseman, while rookie Nikita Kucherov scored on a breakaway nine seconds after Hedman for his third game-winning goal of the season, tied for third among rookies.
The victory ended a stretch for Tampa Bay in which it played eight games in eight different cities - including one at home - with the Lightning coming out of the two-week span with a 5-3 record. With points in 14 of the past 20 games, Tampa Bay is tied with Boston atop the Atlantic Division standings, though the Bruins have a game in hand.
Bishop is a big reason the Lightning are in that position, with a 23-5-3 record, 1.83 goals against average and league-leading .937 save percentage. He improved his all-time record against the Rangers to 5-0 with a 0.91 goals against average and .970 save percentage, with that third-period save on Brassard a indication that Bishop was on top of his game in his first game back in over a week.
“He was probably our best player tonight,'' Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “He was feeling it, and I think when you talk any coach, your bench feels it as well. Goaltending matters, and we needed him tonight and he helped us.''
It didn't take long for Bishop to get into the game, making a glove save on Ryan Callahan at 5:05 of the first and then making a left pad stop on a breakaway chance by Chris Kreider 43 seconds later.
“This is a fun building to play in, you can't come in here and not be ready to play,'' Bishop said. “The training staff and the medical staff did a good job of getting me ready.''
The Rangers would eventually find a way to beat Bishop when Brad Richards converted a Callahan feed from behind the net at 1:55 of the first period. Tampa Bay then received a bit of a scare when Hedman's skate was tangled up with the stick of Brian Boyle sending the Lightning defenseman awkwardly into the boards and forcing him off the ice for the remainder of the period.
But he returned to start the second period and wired home a slap shot 1:10 into the period for a power play goal. Off the ensuing faceoff, Kucherov split the seam up the middle as he took a pass from Radko Gudas and beat Henrik Lundqvist to convert the breakaway, after missing out on numerous similar chances since he was called up.
“It was such a good feeling for me, I had so many breakaways and it finally goes in . . . I was like, “Wheeeew'','' Kucherov said as he moved his hands down to symbolize a sense of relief.
From there it was all about Bishop, who stopped 23 shots over the final two periods, including four on two power play chances for the Rangers in the third period as he remained calm despite all that was going on around him.
“You have to give him credit,'' Lundqvist said of Bishop. “We did a lot of good things and created a lot of big chances in front, but even when he doesn't see the puck his body is so big that pucks hit him. He played a really strong game.''