TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Goalie Ben Bishop has led the Tampa Bay Lightning onto the ice for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, indicating he will start on Saturday night.
Bishop missed Game 4 and skipped Friday’s practice with an undisclosed injury, but spent 15 minutes on ice during Tampa Bay’s morning skate for Game 5.
The Lightning apparently decided the 53-game winner is healthy enough to play against the Chicago Blackhawks. The series is even at two games apiece.
Bishop said he believes “there’s progress being made” on the injury. Rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy was on the ice as Bishop’s backup after starting Game 4.
“When you get this far, you don’t want to hurt the team at all,” Bishop said after the morning skate. “It’s been a long season. You got this far, and you don’t want to be holding back the team, I guess to say. It’s an extremely tough decision to make.”
Bishop faced shots for about 10 minutes at Amalie Arena in the pregame skate, appearing to test his mobility and post-to-post movement. He hadn’t been on home ice since he left Game 2 twice in the final minutes of the Lightning’s 4-3 victory.
Bishop won Game 3 in Chicago, making 36 saves despite appearing to be hurt. Vasilevskiy played well in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 loss in Game 4 on Wednesday.
“I’m hoping,” coach Jon Cooper said when asked if Bishop would be available for Game 5. “I hope I have a decision to make between him and Andrei. That would be great.”
Cooper then abruptly left his morning press briefing after one question.
Earlier in the week, Cooper declared that Bishop would play again in this series, but didn’t know when that would happen. The final has only two or three games remaining over the next five days, depending on the outcome.
In his first career trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Bishop had started Tampa Bay’s first 23 games until Game 4, making 27 consecutive starts overall since March 31. Kristers Gudlevskis backed up Vasilevskiy, while Bishop had a miserable night in street clothes.
“It’s terrible,” Bishop said. “I was more nervous for that game I’m not playing than for any game. I thought Vasi came in and did a great job. He did everything he needed to do. I thought he played a great game. We had a chance to win that game. It’s a tough spot to put a kid in like that. You can see why he’s going to be as good as he is.”
The 20-year-old Vasilevskiy was a first-round pick in 2012, and he played 16 regular-season games this year after joining the Lightning in December. The Russian is considered one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey, and his Tampa Bay teammates seem thoroughly confident in him.
“You can see the bright future he has,” Bishop said. “He’s a good kid.”