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Ben Bishop stands tall for Lightning in biggest game of his short playoff career

Ben Bishop #30, Victor Hedman #77 and Steven

Ben Bishop #30, Victor Hedman #77 and Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate after defeating the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 24, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The fickle finger of goalie fate had turned Sunday from the visiting dressing room in Tampa, where on Friday it pointed to the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, to the visitors' room at the Garden, where it found the Lightning's Ben Bishop.

There Bishop sat after the morning skate before Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final and after allowing five goals in consecutive games, answering questions similar to those Lundqvist faced after allowing six goals each in Games 2 and 3.

Bishop knew he was approaching the biggest game of his career, but he did his best not to get sucked into any public second-guessing of himself or amateur psychology or a discussion of Lundqvist's admission that he had done some "soul searching."

"I don't know how to soul search yet," Bishop, 28, said with a laugh.

Eight hours later, he took the ice and helped the Lightning leave the Rangers to do the soul-searching again, shutting them out, 2-0, and leaving them on the brink of elimination.

Bishop was far from the only or even the biggest reason the Lightning won. Both goals were set up by sweet passing combinations and the Tampa defense was airtight.

But given the stature of the goaltender in the other net, and given how widely the hockey world was starting to look at Bishop as a weak link after Game 5 . . . well, let's just say his performance was exactly what the Lightning was hoping for.

"He has the confidence in himself and it's contagious," Lightning star Steven Stamkos said before the game. "He was disappointed in the way he played. You could see it in his eyes. And he's responded. I think he's gotten over it."

Bishop said the trick in his first extended playoff experience has been to try not to think of it as the playoffs at all but rather like the regular season.

"You have to treat it like that, and I haven't had a problem doing that," he said. "Some nights are going to be good. Some nights are going to be bad. It's about moving on and not having consecutive bad ones."

An hour before Bishop spoke, Lundqvist held court in the home dressing room at the Garden and spoke of the "roller coaster of emotions" that is the playoffs for everyone involved, but especially for goalies.

He said his experience has taught him to relax more through the ups and downs than he used to. Lundqvist is only five years older than Bishop, but Sunday night was his 108th career playoff game. It was the 18th for Bishop, all this season.

But it hardly looked like Bishop was raw or nervous in Game 5.

Bishop had more work to do than Lundqvist early on. He stopped Martin St. Louis on a good early chance, faced down Chris Kreider as he shot wide on a nice power-play feed from St. Louis and then had to make a save on Rick Nash's shorthanded chance.

Later, Bishop made a stop on a Derek Stepan pass off a nice feed from J.T. Miller and the Rangers continued to keep the heat on the Lightning, and outplayed them for long stretches.

But the mood change radically after the Lightning broke through with 13:29 left in the second when smart passes from Anton Stralman and Stamkos set up Valtteri Filppula, who ripped a shot past Lundqvist's stick side.

Tampa Bay made it 2-0 with 1:38 left in the second when the Bolts put together another nice passing combination on a power play, with Nikita Kucherov passing to Ondrej Palat to Stamkos, who buried the puck past a helpless Lundqvist.

The Rangers left the ice to a smattering of boos.

The desperate Rangers tried to put heat on Bishop in the third, but he held firm, helped by nearly two dozen blocked shots by his teammates.

The Rangers now must beat Bishop two games in a row, or they're through.

New York Sports