Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper looked into Ben Bishop's eyes and saw no doubts that his goaltender would be able to play in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final despite an undisclosed injury that twice forced Bishop out of Game 2 and made him slow to unfold his 6-foot-7 frame during Monday's morning skate.
The look of assurance in Bishop's eyes was all Cooper needed to see.
“You can read when guys are sitting there saying, ‘Coach, I'll go for you.' Or you can say, ‘Give me the net,'” Cooper said. “That kid said, ‘Give me the net.' I knew we were going to be OK.”
That sentiment wasn't universal, certainly not when Bishop leaned on his stick to get to his feet during the game and moved slowly from post to post. But Bishop's 36-save performance in the Lightning's 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks might someday become part of Stanley Cup legend, so gritty was his effort in the face of a first-period blitz and the roars of fans at a packed United Center.
“He's just a competitor,” Tampa Bay forward Tyler Johnson said. “When he's in the net he gives his 100%. We have a lot of confidence in him to do everything that he does and he's never let us down.”
Cedric Paquette, cast in the Final as a checking center with the mission of stopping Chicago's Jonathan Toews, scored his second goal in three games to put the Lightning ahead for good with 3 minutes 11 seconds left in the third period, tapping home a brilliant pass from defenseman Victor Hedman. But Bishop made sure the Lightning left the United Center with a 2-1 series lead and its fourth straight road playoff win.
“He basically stood on his head and made some big saves, especially in the first period,” said Hedman, who also set up the first goal with a long, precise pass. “He's a warrior It was a little bit of controversy going into tonight. I think he showed how good he was and how healthy he was.”
Healthy? When Bishop sometimes labored to rise from his knees?
“I didn't see that actually, no,” defenseman Anton Stralman said. “He looks fine for me.”
In truth, Bishop looked as if he had a groin or hamstring injury, but he declined to be specific and said he didn't know if he might incur long-term damage by continuing to play. He said he talked to Cooper several times Monday before the decision was made.
“It's going to take a lot not to play in a Stanley Cup Final game, personally,” Bishop said.
“I felt good. The first period, probably a few too many rebounds out there. As the game went on the guys did a great job of clearing those out. As the game went on I felt better, more comfortable.”
Not in the Blackhawks' eyes. “He looks like he's got some issues,” Coach Joel Quenneville said, “but I think we still didn't put enough pucks at the net and traffic. But certainly later in the game there we made it easier on him.”
Tampa Bay scored first, at 5:09 of the first period, on a shot from the right circle by Ryan Callahan that beat Corey Crawford high on the glove side. The Blackhawks pressed furiously, with Marian Hossa missing an empty net and Teuvo Teravainen missing a golden chance about nine minutes in, before Brad Richards' shot from just inside the blue line beat a screened Bishop during a power play, at 14:22. The Blackhawks revived in the third period and surged ahead when Brandon Saad's rising shot from one knee that got past Bishop at 4:14. But the lead vanished 13 seconds later, when Ondrej Palat's bouncer got past Crawford.
“I thought I had time to cover it up and then he came in,” Crawford said.
The Blackhawks owned the first period and the Lightning owned the second, but the third was even until Hedman lugged the puck up ice and fed Paquette.
“I just went to the net, he gave it to me,” Paquette said. “I waited until the goalie couldn't see the puck. I think I had the opening.”
Because he did, the Lightning can take a commanding lead Wednesday at the United Center.
“We're a resilient bunch. We've gained momentum every series that we've played, in some pretty tough buildings,” center Steven Stamkos said.
And they've done it despite whatever ails Bishop.
“The speculation is going to go on until this series is over,” Stamkos said. “He's a competitor. He stepped up to the challenge tonight. He's done it all playoffs. He's been our best player a lot of nights.”
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @Helenenothelen