TAMPA — Five minutes into Tuesday's 3-0 victory against Toronto, the Lightning already lost something big.
Sure, Ondrej Palat scored twice and Victor Hedman had a goal and two assists to lift Tampa Bay to within two points of Montreal for second place in the Atlantic Division, which would carry home ice in its likely first-round playoff series starting next week.
But before the Lightning get to that first playoff series in three years, they may be staring at having to enter the postseason without goalie Ben Bishop for a prolonged period of time after he left favoring his left arm at the 5:43 mark of the first period. Bishop dove to his left in an attempt to snatch a puck out the air, and appeared to land awkwardly on his left arm, with his wrist appearing to be the first part to hit the ice.
After laying down on the ice for several moments while being attended to by head medical trainer Tom Mulligan, Bishop struggled to get to his skates but managed to leave under his own power. Bishop, who has battled a injury to his right wrist suffered Jan. 5, was noticeably favoring his left arm as he made his way back to the locker room.
The team did not offer any update on Bishop's status after the game, only classifying the injury as upper-body, though he underwent some form of testing Tuesday night.
“Let's just wait and see what happens here,'' Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “There is no sense in speculating or doing any of the social media. He's either going to be ready to go or he's not. And you need some goaltending depth and I'm really confident in what we have, especially after you what that performance tonight.''
The performance came from Anders Lindback, who provided a 25-save shutout in relief in just his third game since Jan. 30.
Lindback has had his share of ups and downs this season, with more downs than ups as he has appeared in just 20 games before Tuesday, with little success picking up just five victories and a 3.26 goals against average.
On Tuesday, however, when the Lightning needed him, Lindback was strong under adverse conditions coming in cold after a hard morning on-ice workout, particularly in the final minute of the second period when he stopped Phil Kessel on a partial breakaway and made a glove save on Jake Gardiner's open wrist shot from the slot.
“I always try to prepare for everyday and it's my job to be able to step in and give the team a chance,'' Lindback said. “Obviously it feels good, but it's one thing, too, I can't hang my hat on it. I have to keep going, try to get better. I don't know how Bish is doing, but we have another game and we have to try to come together and keep playing like this.''
If Bishop is out for any extended period of time, that means the Lightning will likely lean on Lindback when the postseason begins. Though Tampa Bay will make a call up from Syracuse of the American Hockey League - either Latvian Olympic hero Kristers Gudlevskis or Cedrick Desjardins - Lindback would get the first chance to lead the Lightning on to the ice for the start of the playoffs, either April 16 or 17.
“It's been a pretty resilient group, and is this another test, sure it is? Has Ben been outstanding for us, yes he has,'' Cooper said. “You need a goalie to make saves for you and if it's not Ben, it's going to be somebody else. And now it's going to be Lindy. We just showed tonight against a desperate hockey team that if we play with our structure, that it doesn't matter who we put in the net. Make the saves you have to make and let the boys to the rest. I think that's what happened tonight.''
Even if the Lightning are forced to turn to Lindback to carry the postseason load, those who play in front of him don't have any doubts.
“We don't know how long Ben is going to be out, but we know we can rely on Lindy, he's going to be there for us when we need him,'' Hedman said. “Our confidence in him is very high. So it wasn't a big surprise that he came in and played well.''