TAMPA, Fla. – Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop got his sixth shutout of the season Monday night, tying him for second-most in the NHL, but few belonged to him as much as the 3-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Amalie Arena.
“There are team shutouts and there are goalie shutouts. Let’s take a guess which shutout that one was,” coach Jon Cooper said after Bishop had 34 saves. “Bish was the guy tonight. He singlehandedly won the game for us.”
Bishop picked up his third shutout in his last six games, helping the Lightning kill off seven Toronto power plays after jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the opening period.
The Lightning (44-27-5), who have won four of their last five games, move back into a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division, though the Florida Panthers have a game in hand with less than two weeks left in the regular season. Toronto (27-37-11) has the lowest point total in the NHL with 65 points.
“Every now and then, you get a little lucky. Tonight I got a couple of good bounces,” Bishop said. “We talk about the regular season being a dress rehearsal for the playoffs. That wasn’t very good tonight.”
Tampa Bay controlled the game despite Toronto having twice as many shots on goal. The Maple Leafs, who had won five of seven coming in, couldn’t get past Bishop, who was spectacular, surviving three penalties in a span of 4:15 in the final period.
Bishop continues to make a compelling case for the Vezina Trophy, ranking second in the NHL in both goals-against average (2.05) and save percentage (.927). With the shutout Monday, he is now tied for second in the NHL with six this season, with only Chicago’s Corey Crawford (seven) ahead.
“It is tough, watching a guy put on a performance like Bishop did tonight on the other end,” Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks said. “You want to do the same thing for your team … I made some poor decisions on a couple of plays and it ended up costing me. Live and learn.”
Tampa Bay extended its lead to 3-0 in the second period. Erik Condra and Steven Stamkos pushed up the right side on a breakaway, then Stamkos passed left to defenseman Victor Hedman, who hit the top left corner of the net for his eighth goal of the season. Condra, who had one assist since October before Monday’s game, had assists on two of the first three Tampa Bay goals.
That third goal gave Tampa Bay a comfortable lead, but only due to superb play by Bishop, who had 27 saves in the first two periods, several on prime scoring opportunities.
The Lightning jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening period on a pair of unusual goals. The first included an assist from behind the Tampa Bay net, as defenseman Victor Hedman sent a pass the length of the ice to a sprinting Condra, who fired a pass from behind the Toronto goal to right winger Mike Blunden, who scored for his third goal of the season with 12:26 left in the first.
Blunden, a recent call-up from Syracuse, had words with the Toronto bench, resulting in two brawls in the final 10 seconds of the match.
“A bit of hostility, I guess,” center Nazem Kadri said. “He’s chirping at our bench. I don’t think anyone really appreciates that. It’s something you might be able to do in Syracuse or wherever, but not here. I don’t think our guys appreciated that. He kind of brought it on himself.”
Tampa Bay left winger Ondrej Palat was called for a tripping penalty later in the first period, and 10 seconds after the penalty ended, he scored for a 2-0 lead, taking the rebound from a Stamkos shot that caromed high in the air and knocking it in mid-air and through the legs of Sparks.
Tampa Bay had been outshot 8-1 in the opening six minutes, with Bishop making several big saves, especially during an early power play. Toronto had looks at an open net with strong passing, but missed the chance for an early lead.
NOTES: The Lightning got C Valtteri Filppula back after he missed six games with an upper-body injury, but they still played without RW Ryan Callahan (fifth game, lower body), D Anton Stralman (second, broken leg) and RW Nikita Kucherov (second, lower). Two recent call-ups, D Slater Koekkoek and RW Joel Vermin, were healthy scratches. … The Maple Leafs were without D Victor Loov (10th game, upper body), C Leo Komarov (sixth, lower body), C Peter Holland (fifth, upper body) and RW Nikita Soshnikov (fourth, undisclosed). C Byron Froese and D Matt Hunwick were healthy scratches. … Toronto came in with the NHL’s lowest point total at 65 points but actually had a better record (5-2-0) in the past seven games than the Lightning, who were 4-3-0 in the same span. … The Lightning play host to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, while Toronto visits the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.