By Jeff Capellini
If fans and media are going to continue to insist on calling Henrik Lundqvist the "king," it's only appropriate they start addressing Ben Bishop properly.
The goaltender who was a bit of an afterthought during the Eastern Conference finals silenced a lot of doubters on Friday night, standing tall in the third period of a 2-0 victory over the Rangers in Game 7 that sent the Tampa Bay Lightning back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2004.
Bishop made 22 saves and picked up an assist in quieting Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers had never lost in seven prior playoff-series-deciding games.
Bishop took some heat after getting lit up and eventually pulled from a 7-3 loss in Game 6, with many saying he was not ready to be the goaltender the Lightning needed to outplay someone as seasoned as Lundqvist, let alone win the Stanley Cup.
But there was Bishop in the third period on Friday withstanding everything the desperate Rangers threw in his direction, and when all was said and done he became just the third goaltender in playoff history to record two Game 7 shutouts in the same postseason, joining former Conn Smythe Trophy winners Patrick Roy and Tim Thomas.
"It's such a long season. You will have tough games," Bishop said of his forgettable Game 6 performance. "I wasn't too worried about it."
For two periods, the Lightning got the better of the play, outshooting the Rangers 19-11. Bishop wasn't asked to do a whole heck of a lot, but his counterpart, Lundqvist, was forced to do everything, showing everyone why he came into the game 6-0, with a 0.84 goals-against average and unbelievable .973 save percentage in his previous six Game 7s.
Lundqvist came up big in the first period, making nine saves, including a few of the highlight-reel variety.
With a little less than eight minutes left, the Lightning's Valtteri Filppula ripped a shot from above the left point that hit Rangers' defenseman Matt Hunwick and fluttered toward the right post. Off-balance, Lundqvist somehow got his glove up and deflected the puck enough to put it just above the crossbar and on top of the net.
Five minutes later, Lundqvist stopped Filppula again, this time on a slot deflection of a shot shoveled from the right point.
With the game still scoreless in the second, the Rangers received the game's first two power-play chances, but Bishop stretched his 6-foot-7 frame over every square inch of the goal mouth. It ended up being quite the omen.
"(Bishop) was making some good saves, but we didn't test him as much as we should have," said forward Rick Nash, who finished with five goals and 14 points in 19 postseason games. "We didn't work for our shot lanes as much as we could have."
The Lightning eventually re-established their will in the Blueshirts' end and it led to several quality scoring chances in the period's final five minutes.
Lundqvist, the 2011-12 Vezina Trophy winner, made a show-stopping glove save on Tampa defenseman Jason Garrison and then a right pad stop on wide-open forward Tyler Johnson in the slot that fans would be singing songs about for years had the Rangers' offensive stars decided to show up.
But then early in the third, Lundqvist cracked, allowing a soft backhand from Alex Killorn to squeeze through his pads. Ondrej Palat then doubled the Rangers' deficit with 8:43 left, snapping a shot into the upper-right corner of the net.
And for all intents and purposes the series was over.
Bishop took over, controlled his rebounds, and ended up with 11 saves in the period. Including the Lightning's mirror-image 2-0 win in Game 5, the American-born goalie blanked the Rangers over the final 145 minutes, 43 seconds on Garden ice.
"For some reason, I really like this building," Bishop said.
Tampa Bay coach John Cooper said it was more than that.
"(Bishop) was much-maligned for giving up the goals he gave up, but in the two pivotal games we needed to win in this building, he shut the door," Cooper said.
Brian Boyle, who played an intangible role in the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final last season before joining the Lightning during the offseason, said the combination of Bishop and precise team-wide execution was the difference.
"(Bishop) has stood in there and has been phenomenal," Boyle said. "I think as a group we didn't give up much tonight. We trust the game plan that the coaches put forth saying that if we don't give up much it's a low-scoring game, a low-chance game. We take our chances in that and I think we executed to a tee."
Bishop, who had played sparingly for three different teams over his first four NHL seasons, finished this past regular season, his second as Tampa Bay's starter, 40-13-5 with a 2.32 GAA and .916 save percentage. However, he had never played in a postseason game before the Lightning's opening-round series against Detroit.
Now, 20 postseason games of experience later, Bishop has a 2.15 GAA, a .920 save percentage and the needed confidence in place to perhaps power the Lightning to their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history.
As for Lundqvist and the Rangers, Friday night's disappointment will undoubtedly lead to a summer of discontent. After all, they won the Presidents' Trophy during the regular season and pretty much operated with a Cup-or-best mentality. And while the Blueshirts will likely be active during the offseason and fully loaded for another run next season, one has to wonder how many more chances this team's core will have to win the franchise's first league championship since 1994.
"The last three, four years I think we are one of the teams that played the most games in the playoffs. We're right there," Lundqvist said after the game. "It's a great group to be part of and we worked extremely hard. This year was not enough and we were so close. That's what makes it special to go through this, but it's also extremely tough when you don't come up with the result."
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