“Just Win Baby!” was the message inscribed above a rink diagram, encouragement for a team that will try Wednesday night to extend the 2-1 series lead it holds over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.
Goaltender Ben Bishop, who made 36 saves in the Lightning’s 3-2 victory Monday despite being hampered by an undisclosed injury, participated in the morning skate Wednesday. Coach Jon Cooper, in keeping with teams’ hyper-secrecy about injuries, gave no more information than he has disclosed in the past few days.
“I think we're in the same holding pattern as we were 48 hours ago,” Cooper said.
Since the previous holding pattern resulted in Bishop's starting, Cooper was asked if the lineup will be the same as it was in Game 3.
“Seven-twenty puck drop,” he said, referring to the scheduled Central Time start. “You’ll get to see then.”
Bishop was not in uniform Wednesday night, and the role of leading the team onto the ice -- traditionally reserved for the starting goalie -- was carried out by 20-year-old rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had replaced Bishop in Game 2 and was credited with the win. The backup goalie was Kristers Gudlevskis, who made an impression on hockey observers when he nearly led Latvia to an upset of the powerful Canadian Olympic team at the Sochi Games. He stopped 55 shots in a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to the eventual gold medalists.
Or, as Kings Coach Darryl Sutter likes to say when asked about lineup changes, you’ll have to be there for the song — the anthem.
Bishop didn’t reveal anything more than Cooper did, but he praised his teammates for helping him get through Game 3.
“I think the guys played really well in front of me. Obviously got some big blocked shots there, and they make it easy on me,” he said.
He didn’t respond to a question about his visibly slow efforts to get up after he goes down to the ice. And when asked whether he might have been lucky that the Blackhawks didn’t force him to move laterally very much, he remained noncommittal.
“It felt like any other game,” he said.
Wednesday’s game won’t be like any other because if the Lightning wins, it will take a 3-1 series lead back to Tampa for a potential Cup-clinching game Saturday at Amalie Arena. Defenseman Anton Stralman said he anticipates a strong pushback by the Blackhawks, who have lost two straight games for the first time in this season’s playoffs.
Every game you move on in the series you expect the other team to elevate the game even more. I expect we’re going to get their best shot from now, and we’ve been having their best shot already,” Stralman said. “I think they’re going to try to do everything they can. We have to prepare for that and match that and make sure we do all the things we can to prepare for it.”