CHICAGO — “He was excellent,” said Jon Cooper.
“You need guys to step up — he did,” said Steven Stamkos.
“He’s a warrior,” said Victor Hedman.
All three — Tampa Bay’s head coach, captain and best defenseman — agreed on one thing Monday night: Ben Bishop’s performance in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final was huge.
How huge? Well, consider what transpired. Bishop stopped a series-high 36 shots while dealing with what appeared to be a pretty painful injury. He also bailed his team out of a first period the ‘Hawks thoroughly dominated.
The NHL’s tallest netminder then labored over the next two periods, often struggling to get to his feet after saves while looking about as uncomfortable as one can in a contest of this magnitude. Bishop also took a healthy knock on Brandon Saad’s goalie interference penalty, just for good measure.
But in the end, he was the winning goalie as Tampa Bay moved within two victories of the Stanley Cup.
Now don’t forget, in the hours prior to Game 3, it wasn’t known if Bishop would even play tonight. The Lightning were completely mum on the status of his health and, Monday morning, Bishop took a very limited skate before stonewalling reporters (but also apologizing for it, which was nice.)
After tonight’s tilt, the Bolts suggested they knew Bishop was in better shape than the media was led to believe.
“He was huge for us tonight,” Hedman said. “There was a little bit of a controversy going into tonight, but I think he showed how good he was and how healthy he is.”
Stamkos also suggested the team knows Bishop isn’t 100 percent, won’t be anytime soon, and that the narrative about his health isn’t going anywhere.
“The speculation is going to go on until this series is over,” Stamkos explained. “[Bishop’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 and gave us a chance today.”
Ryan Callahan echoed those statements, explaining that regardless of how Bishop is feeling, the Bolts have faith that he’ll keep turning in solid performances.
“He’s out there, he’s out there,” Callahan said. “You don’t second-guess anybody this time of year. Everybody wants to play no matter what’s going on.
“He played big tonight.”