Mar 1, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Lightning defeated the Stars 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Bishop: Last Man Standing

When you are 6’7” it is hard to hide. Just ask Ben Bishop. I’m sure he hears it all the time, being called “Big Ben” or being asked “how’s the weather up there”. In fact, Ben Bishop already holds one trivial NHL record. Tallest goalie in the NHL. Something tells me, Bishop would prefer other kinds of records.

Coming over in a trade with the Ottawa Senators for one of our smallest players, 5’8”, Cory Conacher, the Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t just get an extra 11 inches to our overall team size with this trade, we got a number one goalie. Didn’t know it at the time, but we did.

It is something we haven’t had in these parts since Nikolai Khabibulin was minding the net back in 2004. The Bolts rode the “Bulin Wall” all the way to Stanley Cup immortality that year. A whole bunch of guys that, I probably wouldn’t trade for a bag of pucks, have played goalie for the Lightning in the time between Nikolai Khabibulin and Ben Bishop.

Prior to the trading deadline in 2013, Steve Yzerman traded Conacher for Ben Bishop. Now, Bish was not handed the number one spot at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season. In the previous off season (2012), Yzerman signed free agent goalie, Anders Lindback who spent two years as Pekka Rinne’s backup in Nashville.

Lindback played sparingly in the 2012-2013 season as backup to Mathieu Garon. That off-season with newly acquired Bishop, the organization decided not to re-sign Garon and were going with the duo of Lindback and Bishop.

Prior to the start of last season, there was no clear cut number one goalie. Coach Jon Cooper said coming out of training camp that he looked at his goalies as 1A and 1B. In fact, Anders Lindback actually was the starting goalie in last season’s opening game. The Bolts lost to Boston and true to his word, Cooper started Ben Bishop in game two. The Lightning won.

Most likely, playing a hunch, Cooper started Bishop in game three. Another win. What the hell, Coop must have thought, and he started Big Ben in game four. Another Bishop start, another Lightning win. The team is three and one and Bishop has all three wins.

Again, in an attempt to keep to his word, Cooper starts Lindback in game five. The team is on a roll, winning three in a row, why not? Lindback starts and guess what, Bolts lose. Uh-oh. The Lightning has won three games and lost two. Bishop is 3-0 and Lindback is 0-2.

Ben Bishop starts the next five games and the Bolts go 4 and 1. Forget about 1A and 1B, Ben Bishop is the starting goalie. In his first eight games in net, Bishop is 7-1. He earns number one status. No doubt, no worries. He won the job in quick fashion. Bishop is starting, Lindback is the backup. Even though Coach Jon Cooper never really comes out and announces it, we all know, even Lindback knows.

So, what does Ben Bishop do? He has the best year in his young career. Playing in 63 games, Bishop wins a franchise record 37 wins. He also betters his career mark in save percentage with 92.4% and his goals against average is 2.23 per game.

This unbelievable year comes to a crashing halt as Bishop hurts his elbow on April 8th against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Writhing in pain on the ice, it was reminiscent of watching the pain Steven Stamkos endured in November, against Boston, when he broke his leg.

Little did we know that Bishop would not make it back for the Bolts brief playoff appearance. Nobody knew that between periods of that fateful Toronto game after Big Ben was hurt, newly named Captain, Steven Stamkos, came in to check on his goaltender and to hear Ben tell it: “(Captain Steven Stamkos) gave me a hug, and I actually started crying, it was tough.”

There are 30 NHL number one goalies and Ben Bishop is one of those 30. He’s earned it. He played well enough last year to be one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy for the league’s outstanding goalie. We will see him at the Forum this year, healthy and with a few new additions in front of him.

I said at the outset that at 6’7”, it is hard for a guy that big to hide. Bishop showed last year he isn’t afraid of the spotlight. He won the number one spot and knows there is some unfinished business ahead for him and his team.

He also knows the expectations are higher this year than last. He led the team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs but didn’t see a minute of playoff playing time. Ben Bishop wants to see this through. He is the last line in our defense. He is our last man standing. Sometimes he is the only thing between our net and an opposing goal. I’m good with that. I’m good that Big Ben is there. I bet his defensemen sleep better knowing that if they make a mistake, there is a 92.4% chance that Bishop will bail them out.

I’m looking forward to this upcoming season. Finally get to see Jonathan Drouin up close and personal. Stammer will play and not get hurt (knock on wood), Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman make our D-men better. But of all that is coming, I am looking forward to seeing what Ben Bishop will do for an encore. Vezina? Perhaps. Playoffs? For sure? Dare I say, Stanley Cup? Here’s hoping Ben Bishop is truly last man standing, with a giant Cup in his hands.

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