Goaltending can be a thankless job.
You can stop 138 of 147 shots, as Ben Bishop has in this series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, but if the nine goals you let in reveal blemishes you wouldn’t want your best friends—let alone your worst enemies—to see, your vulnerability becomes impossible to hide.
Goaltenders of Bishop’s ilk don’t come about vulnerability naturally. A six-foot-seven mammoth, he’s an intimidating figure. Stature isn’t the only thing that’s had him establish himself as unflappable at times.
He was a Vezina Trophy finalist a year ago, and was an unheralded member of a Lightning team that didn’t lose more than two games in a row this season.
Still, the fact that Bishop had never appeared in a Stanley Cup Playoff game before this year had many questioning his ability to bring a worthy Lightning team to their ultimate goal. If he started nervously against the Detroit Red Wings in Round 1, he proved he could handle the pressure when he posted a 31-save shutout in Game 7.
Bishop built on the foundation he laid in the Detroit series by holding the Canadiens to just four goals in the first three games of Round 2, but the numbers masked his fallibility in those performances.
"He’s been sitting on a horseshoe," said P.K. Subban Thursday in reference to the Canadiens’ propensity to hit posts.
When they finally broke through with three goals on 14 shots that chased Bishop from the net in Game 4, the third goal was David Desharnais’ rising slap shot from a bad angle 40 feet from the net.
"The one thing is, we gave [Desharnais] a lot of space," deflected Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who suggested he pulled Bishop from the game in a failed attempt to spark his team. "He got to tee it up and put it in a good spot, it hit the glove and went up and over and in. Those things happen."
"Those things" have happened twice in this series, with Max Pacioretty beating Bishop in identical fashion in Game 1.
After a tense start to Game 5 for the Canadiens, Devante Smith-Pelly exposed Bishop with a short-side snap shot from 42 feet away. Cooper called it a perfect shot, but had Bishop been on the angle, that little hole Smith-Pelly shot through wouldn’t have presented itself.
Subban, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, and Jeff Petry struck iron in the second period, and Anton Stralman pulled a puck off the goal line to keep Bishop and the Lightning in the game before Steven Stamkos came through with a tying goal at 9:27 of the third.
What happened with 4:07 remaining in Game 5 was far too revealing of Bishop’s frame of mind going into Game 6. It wasn’t that Bishop got beat on what actually was a perfect shot from Parenteau, it was his lack of accountability on the goal that indicated he was shaken.
Matt Carle obstructed Bishop’s view as he stood in the lane to block Parenteau’s shot. Carle then shifted out of position instead of holding his spot, allowing the shot to get to the net.
"I thought we played well, but it’s tough when you only show up for half the game," said Bishop in an indictment of his team.
Those words don’t scream leadership, they expose vulnerability.
After Tyler Johnson deepened Montreal’s wound with a buzzer-beater to put the Lightning up 3-0 in this series, Carey Price was asked if he thought he could’ve stopped the shot.
The play saw the Canadiens fail to put the puck securely into the Lightning end as time was expiring, and two players blew their coverage in front of Price, but he wasn’t hanging the goal on anyone but himself.
"Yeah," he said. "I feel like I can stop every puck."
Price hasn’t stopped them all since saying it, but he’s stopped enough of them to help his team win consecutive games with their backs against the wall; inspiring the confidence his team needs to pull off a series win that seemed impossible barely three days ago..
The opportunity for Bishop to emerge as a leader is in front of him. He can be the biggest reason the Lightning move on to the greener pastures of playoff success.
But if Bishop can’t assume leadership, if he can’t be accountable, he’ll be left with self-pity as a 3-0 series lead moves to the verge of becoming a historical seven-game blunder.
No one will be there to thank him for all the saves, if that happens.