November 22, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks defenseman Mark Fistric (28) helps goalie Jonas Hiller (1) defend the goal against Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson (9) during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Battle of the Backstops: Ben Bishop vs. Jonas Hiller

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The venue was the Honda Center; home ice for goaltender Jonas Hiller, and his Anaheim team, the Ducks.

Across the ice was Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender “Big” Ben Bishop.

The night was a Friday, and it was late.

But if you had trouble staying awake for that tense game, I feel bad for you (son) because that was one of the most entertaining games played this season by the Bolts.

I’ve got 99 problems, but staying up during that game wasn’t one.

And even though it was a loss, the Lightning needed a game like that against Anaheim. They needed a game where some tenacity in the lines was visible and effective, and Bishop was in top-form.

The Lightning needed to play like the team they were before this underwhelming four-game Pacific Division road trip started.

The only missing component, for me, was finishing on shots and scoring opportunities.  The refs gave Tampa Bay six power play chances but nothing gelled for the Bolts, despite putting 31 shots on goal during the game.

Tampa Bay had lots of good looks and breakaways, but no finishing touches, and most importantly – no goals.

It was the second time in just over a week that these two great teams have met this year, and the game was everything I thought it would be.

The Ducks weren’t about to forget the 5-1 loss they endured on Nov. 14 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Anaheim was fully prepared to fight it out on their pond, and they did. No shellacking took place on Friday night that’s for sure.

No, just a goaltending duel between two ace backstops plugged in like it was nobody’s business.

Hiller had no interest in being as “holey” as he was in the first game, and Bishop had no interest in being as transparent as the Phoenix and Los Angeles games might have suggested either.

Bishop saved 42 of the 43 shots put on him (.976 SV %), a season high and only the second highest amount of saves he has recorded in his career. That mark was set in his Lightning debut against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 4th, 2013 when he made 45 saves.

In the Ducks’ net, Hiller made 31 saves (1.000 SV %).

So the game just had to remain scoreless for three-regulation periods (60 minutes) and four minutes and 54 seconds of sudden death overtime, before either goalie would let a puck anywhere close to the inside of the net.

And even then, in my opinion, Bishop more or less saved Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf’s shot and eventual goal, but a bad bounce after the initial save, and a charging, falling Richard Panik (probably to make up for his sloppy passing that gave Getzlaf his breakaway chance in the first place) ran into Bishop, fell in the crease, and knocked the puck past the line.

Anaheim won 1-0 in OT with 5.2 seconds left on the clock, and the Bolts lost their first overtime game of the season.  Such a shame.  I think the Lightning would have owned the Ducks in the shootout had the game managed to get there.

This four-game road trip has seen the Lightning earn a lot of firsts for the 2013-14 season, and none of these firsts are the good kind of firsts.

First multi-game losing streak. First loss (several now) to a Western Conference team.

And there goes the perfect OT record.

But you know what? Those are tough things to keep doing for the entirety of a hockey season, and I think it’s marvelous that they happened at all. It shows that good things can come from this Tampa Bay hockey club.

The Bolts have what it takes to be a competitor in this league.

And they still have that five-game home winning streak intact.

The Lightning is set to defend home ice Monday Nov. 25 against the New York Rangers, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 27, and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 29.

Time to recharge the Lightning at home, and nowhere is better for that sole purpose than the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

But I’d like to think that last night’s game, heralded by Bishop’s performance in net, provided a few sparks too.

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Tags: Ben Bishop Jonas Hiller Tampa Bay Lightning

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