As sad as I remember being on the morning of April 3rd, 2013, the day I found out that Tampa Bay Lightning rookie and fan-favorite Cory Conacher was to be traded to the Ottawa Senators after a truly impressive and endearing campaign with the Bolts, I can now say that I’m really quite happy it turned out that way.
We got the always dependable goaltender “Big” Ben Bishop in the trade, and man, things have been a lot better in goal for the Lightning ever since.
But initially, I was still pretty distraught over the deal.
So I called a friend, and fellow hockey fan, who schooled me on things.
He told me, “the first rule of watching professional sports: don’t get attached to the players. They just get traded eventually.”
My friend of course is right, as impossible as it seems to not become attached to your favorite players, on your favorite team, you have to understand that professional sports is a business and sometimes business comes before fan-favorites who score their first NHL goal in their first NHL game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Sometimes business requires that your team needs a solid goaltender more than it needs another scoring machine.
With that in mind, I came to the realization that the Lightning seriously needed something solid in net, and I couldn’t help but admit that Steve Yzerman had his head in the right place.
The Lightning needed a
good great goaltender if they ever wanted to play in the postseason in the near future.
So I resolved to see just what this Bishop guy could do (hopefully a lot better than the beleaguered Mathieu Garon and relatively green and oft injured Anders Lindback were doing at the time).
Bishop’s first start for the Lightning against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 4 ended in a 45-shot, 5-0 shutout win in the favor of Tampa Bay, which helped to dry most of my tears immediately.
In his first start for the Lightning…ever! 45 shots! Shutout!
I mean, come on!
I remember thinking after the game, in between what remained of my Conacher sobs, “Garon and Lindback haven’t shutout anybody this season. This is kind of awesome.”
It’s been love at first save ever since.
So far, through the early weeks of the 2013-14 season, my feelings on Bishop’s performance between the pipes for Tampa Bay haven’t wavered an inch, as he has more than proven his mettle through the month of October.
The “Bish” is second in the league in wins (10), eighth in goals against average (2.14 GAA), and ninth in save percentage (.928) as of Nov. 8.
His heroics recently helped the Lightning stay undefeated against Western Conference teams (5-0) as Bishop stopped 38 of 40 shots on goal to keep the Bolts in the game for a 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday Nov. 7.
Including this crazy save that required the 6 foot, 7 inch goalie to seemingly leap from the crease like a heavily padded battle toad, using his shoulder to bat down a potential goal.
With skills like these, what’s not to love? He saved that puck so hard his helmet couldn’t stand being on Bishop’s head for much longer, it had to jump off and bear witness to the save.
Bishop is becoming what I dearly hope is the first franchise goaltender Tampa Bay has had locked down and comfortable in a long time – a goalie who can shoulder the pressure of a season, with skill and poise; aiding the Lightning in the ultimate goal of becoming a regular postseason contender, year-in and year-out.
Which is the very thing I know most Lightning fans crave: we want to be part of the Stanley Cup equation every year. We want to be a feared match-up in the Eastern Conference by every team.
We want to continue to climb the ladder of success. Not step off for two or three seasons in a row.
We want to “Be the Thunder” when it counts; during another run for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It’s still early yet, I know, but the Bolts are turning heads and making teams and NHL analysts take notice.
And Ben Bishop, the culprit behind one very sad early April morning, is the backbone of all that deserved attention.