RALEIGH, N.C. – Standing at 6′ 6”, Tampa Bay goaltender Anders Lindback towers over everyone in the Lightning locker room.
Everyone, that is, except for his new competition.
Ben Bishop, acquired from Ottawa on Wednesday in exchange for Cory Conacher, is the tallest goalie in the NHL at 6′ 7”. But more importantly, he may be the franchise netminder Tampa so desperately desires.
And if he can continue to play the way he did in his Lightning debut, he could become the team’s No. 1 sooner rather than later.
Bishop stymied all 45 shots on goal the Hurricanes threw at him on Thursday, propelling Tampa to a 5-0 drubbing over Carolina at PNC Arena. Those 45 stops ties him with Darren Puppa for the most saves in a shutout in franchise history.
“This is big for the team, there are no individuals in here,” Bishop said. “We are chasing a playoff spot so every game is important. I just wanted to get off on the right foot and do that with a win.”
Posting a 2.45 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in 13 games with the Senators this season, Bishop had emerged as one of the better young goalies in the league. This recent success gave the Lightning enough confidence in the 26-year-old to give up Conacher, who could very well win the Calder Trophy this spring.
At least for Bishop, though, the transition from one team to another was a smooth one.
“It’s a little different, as expected,” he said of playing behind a new group of guys. “No two teams play the exact same. You definitely see the potential here, some great players.”
Making a Good First Impression
After the game, I caught up with GM Steve Yzerman. When asked if he felt better about the trade following Bishop’s shutout, he replied “absolutely.” In addition to Stevie Y, the Lightning new bench boss was impressed with the former Senator, as well.
“It all starts on the back-end with our goaltender,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “He really looked confident in the net tonight, and when your goalie is looking confident, you play confident.
“It got to the point when (the Canes) were coming down, the guys thought ‘Bish will get this,’ and that’s what we thought.”
Thrown Into the Fire
The Canes came out firing in the first, putting 16 shots on goal in the opening frame. While they got several good scoring chances early on, the constant action helped Bishop acclimate himself to his new surroundings.
“No question (the early pressure) helped him,” Cooper said. “There’s probably a sense of, he jumps off a plane last night, he meets all these guys for the first time, I’m sure he was all fired up and he wants to make a good first impression. The guys were really pulling for him to do well, it was a great team effort.”
Said Martin St. Louis, who had a goal and two assists in the win: “Obviously you want to get off to a good start, he obviously did that. He weathered the storm. He made some key saves early on, was really calm in the net. He was tremendous … it started with his play (in the first period).”
Cooper, who recently joined the Lightning after leading their AHL affiliate since 2010, coached against Bishop in the NAHL. Since then, both have come a long ways in their respective careers.
“Believe it or not, he’s gotten bigger,” Cooper said with a laugh. “He was kind of a gangly kid back then. He’s really developed into his body, he’s strong … now he doesn’t break down like he did when he was younger.”
Two Tall Goalies are Better Than One
Having Lindback and Bishop in tow, both of similar gigantic statures, the Lightning now have two goalies that play nearly identical styles between the pipes. And that makes the teaching process easier, Cooper believes.
“They’re big guys, they fill the net,” he said. “They’re athletic … You feel great about them both.”
While Lindback and Bishop will both get their fair share of starts for the rest of the 2013 season — Cooper called it a ’1-and-1 situation’ — expect the competition to heat up in training camp next fall.
But if Tampa’s latest acquisition continues to play the way he did on Thursday, it may not be much of a contest.
“If this is any indication of how (Bishop’s) going to be, it’s going to bode well for us,” Cooper concluded.
Photo credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports