CALGARY, Alberta — The level of play by Ben Bishop this season has seen the 27-year-old goaltender raise his stock in the minds of many.
If the season ended right now, he would be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender in the league and likely considered to be the front-runner for the award. Bishop is second in the league with 21 victories, second among goaltenders with at least 20 starts with a 1.89 goals-against average, his .935 save percentage is tops among goaltenders with at least 20 appearances, and he has allowed two or fewer goals in seven consecutive games heading into tonights’ game at Calgary. Overall, Bishop has allowed fewer than three goals in 25 of his 30 starts this season.
That resume, however, was not enough to impress the brass at USA Hockey, who left Bishop off the Olympic roster that was announced on New Year’s Day, choosing instead to take Ryan Miller (Buffalo), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles) and Jimmy Howard (Detroit) to Sochi, Russia, next month.
But as has been the case with Bishop this season when faced with adversity, he didn’t let that bit of news bother him, not even on a game day, as he went out and stopped 28 shots in a 4-2 victory at Vancouver on Wednesday.
“It’s a tough decision for those guys; obviously I’m a little upset, but those are three really good goalies and I wish them nothing but the best of luck,’’ Bishop said. “I did everything I could to put myself in that position to get chosen; they thought otherwise, but I wish those guys and the team nothing but the best.’’
To be able to digest that bit of news, push those feelings aside and then go out and win a game under difficult circumstances in a tough environment shows just how far Bishop has come since being acquired from Ottawa at the trade deadline in April.
“That just shows you the professionalism of the kid,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “To hear that you are not on the team, and then four hours later you have to go play a hockey game, just to have that composure that he had. But that’s what makes good goaltenders, it’s no different than having a goal scored against you, you have to turn the page. This is your job, this is the team that comes No. 1 to you, and that’s why he’s been our guy, he seems to be able to handle any kind of adversity, and that’s what has made him great so far.’’
But just because Bishop was left off the Olympic roster does not mean the book is closed on his joining the team next month in Sochi.
Bishop received a call from Dale Tallon, a member of the USA executive committee, on Thursday to explain the situation.
“They explained that they wanted to go with guys that have a little more experience,’’ Bishop said. “As much as I wish I was on that team, you can understand why they went with those guys. They had a tough decision, and I tried to make it as hard as I could on them. I probably wasn’t even on much of their radar at the beginning of the season, and it came down to the last guy between Howard and I, so they went with the guy that has a little more experience. And with that being said, some guys are still hurt, you never now what is going to happen. So just keep playing well and you never know.’’
Just as Bishop has learned to quickly move past in-game situations — a bad goal or bad play — he’s learned to keep moving forward when dealing with disappointment.
“You kind of get used to it ... I thought I was going to make the AHL All-Star game a few years ago when I thought for sure I was going to make it and, I thought I was going to make St. Louis (Blues) out of camp one year and I didn’t,’’ Bishop said. “It’s just one of those things that, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You have to deal with it and just keep working hard, keep a good attitude.’’
STAMKOS UPDATE: C Steven Stamkos took another step forward in his recovery Thursday from a broken right tibia suffered Nov. 11. Stamkos took to the ice at the end of practice in full gear while wearing a red no-contact jersey, the first time he has skated while wearing all of his equipment. The 23-year-old took part in some post-practice shooting drills before coming off the ice.
Stamkos called it another “baby step’’ in his recovery process and that Thursday’s step is not an indication he is close to returning. When he had surgery Nov. 12 to insert a titanium rod in the leg, he was told it would be a 10- to 12-week process for the bone to heal, and his eight-week X-ray is scheduled for next week when the team returns home from the four-game road trip.
“It’s more about getting back to skating pain free and getting back to certain movements, and I’m not at that point quite yet,’’ Stamkos said. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s only been seven weeks.’’