I felt pretty good, but obviously I’ve got to make a save here and there. — Lightning goalie Ben Bishop after Game 4.
We’ve got a lot to clean up.– Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman after Game 4
As the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers prepare for the most important game of the tied-at-two Eastern Conference Final at The Garden tonight, the onus is on one player more than any other.
That’s Ben Bishop, guardian of the Bolts pipes.
And when Very Big Ben says that he has “to make a save here and there,” it ranks with the largest understatement since Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “We need a Salary Cap.”
Never in his two-year full-time NHL career has Bishop faced so daunting a challenge as he will in Game 5. That’s because BB was sub-sub-par in the critical Game 4.
If Double B is going to get help, it will have to be from more than the Lightning’s best defender, ex-Ranger Anton Stralman.
Because Bishop’s game has disintegrated and his backliners — apart from Stralman — do not appear up to the task, the stage is set for a Rangers rumble right into the Final Cup round.
SAINTLY ST. LOUIS: Suddenly Marty St. Louis not only scored in Game 4 but has regained his confidence. He sees renewed assurance in his teammates as well.
“We played with some swagger in Game 4,” St. Louis said, “and we want to keep that going at The Garden. We fought to get that swagger back when we didn’t have it.”
NIMBLE NASH: It wasn’t so much that Rick Nash put New York ahead with a classic down-the-boards-past-the-Bolts-defender goal, it was the confident manner in which he slipped the biscuit past Bishop. Then, added another score a bit later.
“Hopefully,” said Nash, “we can ride some momentum, gain confidence and play with it.”
YIPPEE YANDLE: While the Lightning’s power play blacked out into nothingness, the Rangers PP carbonated into key goals with Keith Yandle handling the point with perfection.
“We’ve got confidence in the power play,” Yandle enthused. “We’re able to capitalize on it. Right now I feel at my best and most comfortable. It’s coming together for me.”
CRAFTY COUNSELING: You could call Benoit Allaire the Rangers “Secret Weapon.” He’s the club’s you-never-see goalie coach and — if you ask Henrik Lundqvist — the man who helped revive The King’s winning style after the 6-5 loss in Game 3.
Lundqvist: “It meant a lot to me — when I was under a lot of pressure — to have someone (like Allaire) to talk to and get guidance. Benoit is probably the best goalie coach in the world to talk to about a situation (two six-goals-against games) like that.”
Let’s not kid ourselves, the series is tied because King Henrik out-goaled The Bishop by a Tampa Mile. No more, no less.
Bishop’s less-than-airtight play prompted a reporter to ask coach Jon Cooper if he contemplated resting his starting goalie for Game Five. The query inspired a tart reply from the usually gregarious mentor.
“I’ll look at you like you have five heads,” said Cooper. “How’s that? No change.”
After adding that he has confidence in Bishop, the coach offered what could only be described by the Lightning side as the perfect squelch:
“I understand your question,” Cooper asserted. “For someone to sit here and say are we changing (in) goal? That is asinine to me.”
As for Lundqvist, let’s not forget that he had some help in Game 4. His buddies had a much better collective effort in the neutral zone and back pressure was very good.
As my pal with the Argus eyes, Gus Vic, noticed, “The Bolts speed game largely was kept in check approaching the Rangers zone. If this can be maintained tonight their chances to win the series go up significantly.”
Then again, there’s the Lightning side to consider. Coach Jon Cooper figured that — based on second period chances — his club should have annexed Game 4.
“In a period like that,” Cooper asserted, “nine times out of ten you’re coming out with the lead, probably by multiple goals.
“On the other hand, the Rangers had some breaks — and I give them credit — they made the best of them and we didn’t make the best of ours.”
Pesky Tyler Johnson, hero of other Tampa wins, not only didn’t score but took an unpenalized stick-tweak from Kevin Hayes that had him wincing for a while.
“Sometimes you get the bounces,” said Johnson, who plays hockey in the Mats Zuccarello style, “and sometimes you don’t. We just have to suck it up and move on.”
After 60 minutes — maybe more — of Sunday night hockey at MSG we’ll know if there’s anything left in Tampa’s tank. And whether the Nash-St. Louis duet can continue singing sweet goal tunes.
At least one member of the Florida media is questioning Bishop’s goaltending and Tampa’s defensive breakdowns compared to Rangers successes.
“Nash is scoring,” concluded the Tampa Tribune’s columnist Martin Fennelly, “Lundqvist is saving and maybe even Marty St. Louis is back. Is any of this good news?”
You bet it is — for the New York Rangers!