Just as the Tampa Bay Lightning's offense got healthy, goaltender Ben Bishop was stricken by an undisclosed ailment or injury that forced him to yield the net to rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy twice in the third period Saturday. Bishop was in the locker room when Tampa Bay wrapped up its 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and tied the Stanley Cup Final at one game each, and his departures were never explained.
Jon Cooper tried to defer questions on Bishop's status Sunday by evoking the prickly demeanor of one of his coaching predecessors. "In honor of the 11-year anniversary of our organization's first Stanley Cup, how would John Tortorella answer that question?" Cooper said.
Tortorella wouldn't answer, that's how. "I'll just leave it at that," Cooper said.
But in saying he didn't know who will start Monday at the United Center, Cooper said a lot. "I don't, which would tell you, if I don't know, that Bish could be available," Cooper said at a news conference Sunday.
Russian-born Vasilevskiy, 20, stopped five shots in 9:13 for his appreciative teammates. "If Bish can't go [Monday], is that a blow to us? Sure it is," Cooper said. "But do we think the series is lost because Vasilevskiy is going in? Not a chance. I look at our tandem, I'd like to stack them up against any tandem in the league because I think we've got 1 and 1A."
The key differences are Bishop's height — he's 6 feet 7 to Vasilevskiy's 6-3 — his experience and his superb puck-handling skills. However, defenseman Braydon Coburn said Vasilevskiy's presence wouldn't alter the team's breakouts or other strategy. "As long as they don't need me to back up or anything like that, it doesn't change anything for me," Coburn said.
It's apparently all the same to the Blackhawks too. "I don't really care who's going to be in the net. I know they're good goalies both," said Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen, who briefly gave Chicago a 2-1 lead Saturday with a rising shot during a second-period power play. "Especially, I've played against Vasilevskiy twice with the international team, so I know him a little bit. I think I've scored on him before too."
Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford couldn't cite an injury or illness to explain his sub-par performance Saturday. At least he didn't miss when he blamed himself for two goals, a deflection by Nikita Kucherov and a sharp-angled shot by Tyler Johnson that plopped off Crawford's back and into the net. He did have to contend with more screens and traffic in front of him than he did in Game 1, and his teammates will have to clean that up.
"He's shown throughout his career that he can bounce back and become the guy that we need and everybody expects him to be," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "We could have helped him out a lot more than we did."
The bigger impact of those two goals might be fueling the confidence of the "Triplets," Kucherov, Johnson and Ondrej Palat, who were held scoreless in Game 1. Johnson ended a personal five-game drought and has given the line 30 of the Lightning's 60 postseason goals. He has a playoff-leading 13, with Kucherov at 10 and Palat at seven.
The Blackhawks' top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had no goals Saturday for the second straight game, and Kane didn't have a shot on goal. It's likely the trio will be split up Monday. Marian Hossa, who has no goals in the first two games — also the case for Toews, Saad and Patrick Sharp — probably will move alongside Saad and Toews. That would put Kane with Brad Richards and possibly Bryan Bickell, who missed the first two games for undisclosed reasons. Coach Joel Quenneville said Bickell and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk could play Monday.
"As an offensive guy you want to be helping produce, especially at this time of year," said Kane, who has 111 points in 112 career playoff games. "But we said all along, with our team we don't really care where the goals come from, as long as they're coming from our team.
"I think I can help in that area. That's one of the reasons I'm on the team. That's one of my jobs here, is to try to produce offense. Hopefully start that up next game."