Jon Cooper knows the Tampa Bay Lightning’s upcoming schedule. After Sunday’s game at the Washington Capitals, the Lightning host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
The same Senators that goaltender Ben Bishop played for prior to a deadline trade to Tampa Bay. Even with that matchup looming, Bishop gets the nod for his third straight start against the Caps.
“You’re only human,” Cooper said. “You see there and think about, ‘Well, you’re going to play against your old team.’ But I think if it came down to playing a game to try and get us back into the divisional race or play your old team, I’m pretty sure he’d take the divisional race game.”
The Lightning have a game in hand and trail the Southeast Division-leading Caps by six points with 11 to play. Sunday night’s game would seem to be a must-win if Cooper’s team is to have any chance of making this a race down the stretch.
If the Lightning, 14th in the Eastern Conference, make any kind of run, it will very likely be thanks to Bishop, acquired for young forward Cory Conacher and a draft pick. The 6-foot-7 goalie had a 45-save shutout in his debut, then gave up three goals on 27 shots in Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders.
“I think sometimes we sit there and say back to back games and coming off a loss, but he didn’t play poorly at all. He actually played pretty well,” Cooper said. “Bish has played in the American League, he’s played in the NHL. In the American League you play three games in three nights and a goalie may start all three of them. It’s not something out of the norm, especially what he’s played growing up. I don’t think he had a huge workload last night, so he’s ready to go.”
Bishop was the best goaltender available at the trade deadline. General manager Steve Yzerman took a chance in giving up Conacher, but it seemed like a necessary move given not just an injury to Anders Lindback but the uncertainty about whether Lindback was the answer between the pipes.
It remains to be seen if Bishop will be that, but Cooper likes what he has seen so far.
“He’s a phenomenal kid. He’s got a great, strong demeanor about him,” Cooper said. “On the ice he just exudes confidence. You never sit there and think, ‘Oh my gosh, the kid’s rattled.’ He plays calm, he’s always in position to make a save.”
Cooper also praised the 26-year-old’s ability to play the puck as a “big asset.” Big is a word that can’t be used too often with Bishop, who stands 6-foot-7. When the Lightning coach first addressed who was starting against the Caps, he said, “We’re going to go back to the big boy tonight.”
Tampa Bay could go back to the big boy Tuesday, too.
“Who knows? We’ll see where he’s at then,” Cooper said. “That game’s 48 hours after the Washington game, so we’ve got time to figure that out.”