TAMPA — Not since his college days at the University of Maine has Ben Bishop heard his name chanted by the hometown fans.
On Thursday, the announced crowd of 18,695 at The Forum began a chorus of “BISH-OP, BISH-OP'' as the Lightning goaltender put on a show in a 4-2 victory against Edmonton.
Steven Stamkos scored twice, Tyler Johnson added the eventual winner and Valtteri Filppula provided the insurance with an empty net goal as Tampa Bay won for the sixth time in the past seven games. The Lightning improved to 11-4 on the season and sit atop the Atlantic Division standings while improving to 6-0 against teams from the Western Conference.
But without Bishop's 38-save performance on Thursday, the Lightning likely wouldn't have had a chance.
“He's the only reason why we won the game, I think everyone knows that,'' said Stamkos, who has goals in five consecutive games. “If not, then they probably were not watching the same game.''
Bishop was called on to stop three breakaway chances, including two from 2010 top overall pick Taylor Hall. There also was a 2-on-1 chance from Boyd Gordon that he got a glove on late in the third to keep the Lightning in the lead.
Then there was the late second-period flurry during which Bishop made three clutch saves in a span of 14 seconds — Hall at 16:29 and Ales Hemsky at 16:38, then he got his left pad out to stop a redirect from Sam Gagner at 16:43.
It was right after that, with Tampa Bay holding a 2-1 lead at the time on a pair of Stamkos first-period goals, when the chants praising Bishop began to echo across the arena.
“I heard it, they have been great all year,'' Bishop said of the fans. “It's always nice to hear that, we have some of the best fans in the league, they show up every night and when you hear that stuff, it's awesome.''
Then, less than two minutes after Bishop kept that lead intact with the game-saving sequence, Richard Panik made an inside-out move to get around an Edmonton defenseman at the right circle before setting up Johnson for his fourth goal of the season with 1:27 left in the second period, ensuring Bishop's effort would not go unrewarded.
“You want your goaltender to make the saves he should, and if he can make a few that he shouldn't then you probably have a good chance of winning,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The problem was, he made a lot that maybe he shouldn't. I don't think that we've given up scoring chances like that in our last six games combined, and that is what is really disappointing.''
Whether it came from playing down to the Oilers' 4-10-2 record coming into the game or just not playing well, Tampa Bay allowed Edmonton scoring chance after scoring chance with some poor decisions that led to turnovers and provided Edmonton with the opportunity to use their team speed to create those chances.
“You are going to turn pucks over like we did, you are just adding fuel to the fire, and that's what we did,'' Cooper said. “We started the first five or six minutes of each period, we had control of each period. Then all of a sudden it turned into pull-up, backhand passes, not deep, turn it over, and if you are going to do that against those speedsters over there, this is what is going to happen and you need a Herculean effort from Bishop to save the game for us when it should have never gotten to that point. So in saying that, we have two more points than we did three hours ago, and you can never be disappointed after a win. So I am glad for the two points, I'm just a little bit rattled the way it ended up coming out.''
Hall, who finished the game with eight shots on goal, finally put one past Bishop for a power-play goal with 9:37 to play in the third to make it 3-2, but Bishop made it stand up as he allowed two or fewer goals for the 10th time in his 12 starts.
“Without Ben, the score could have ended up being 7-3 or 7-4, can't say enough about the way he played tonight,'' defenseman Sami Salo said. “We left him out to dry quite a few times, and he bailed us out.''