New experiences can be an exciting part of life. Traveling to new cities and tasting exotic foods can be exhilarating, as can meeting people from different walks of life.
That usually doesn’t apply to sports, especially not to young or untested athletes receiving a baptism by fire in their first postseason. That's the case for Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who isn’t a kid at 28 years old, although it would be understandable if he felt like a six-year-old separated from his mom at the mall after Friday night.
Bishop allowed five goals on 24 shots as the New York Rangers evened the Eastern Conference Final with a 5-1 win in Game 4. It was his second straight faulty showing, as he allowed five goals in Game 3, but the Lightning bailed him out with six goals in an overtime win.
In two games in Tampa, Bishop allowed 10 goals on 52 shots, an .808 save percentage.
It’s been two consecutive shaky performances and maybe even a third, when Bishop looked more relieved than confident as 35 of 37 Rangers shots hit his pads in a 6-2 win in Game 2.
In Game 4, there was a fluky goal when a Keith Yandle shot bound for Cuba hit the leg of defenseman Victor Hedman and caromed past Bishop. Even Rick Nash's breakaway goal hit the post before banking off Bishop's skate and into the net. But when called upon to make difficult saves on rebound attempts by Nash and Chris Kreider, Bishop let pucks get through him for goals.
"They capitalized on a couple of chances and it's one of those nights," Bishop said Friday night. "Third one looks like it's going wide and unfortunately it hits Heddy and goes in. It just seemed like one of those nights where they were getting the breaks."
Bishop’s counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist, was battling his own demons after allowing 12 goals in two games entering Game 4. Lundqvist was able to lean on goaltending coach Benoit Allaire and a wealth of postseason experience, as this is his third conference final appearance since 2012, and came away with a 38-save win in Game 4.
|Ben Bishop, Round-by-Round|
Where does Bishop go? This is all new to him. There have been highs and lows in every playoff series, including the first round, when he tossed a shutout in Game 6 and allowed one goal in Game 7 to bring the Lightning back from a 3-2 deficit to win the series against Detroit, but what he will face Sunday night in New York will be unlike anything he's encountered in his career.
"Ben Bishop has bailed us out some games," coach Jon Cooper said in Tampa on Saturday morning. "Have we bailed him out? Sure, we have sometimes. But for the most part, Bishop has been rock-solid for us. Especially for a kid that's not played in an NHL playoff game before, there is a brighter light on him, and all he's done is passed every test that gets sent his way.
"The tighter the game has got and the more pressure-packed the series got, Ben Bishop got better, and you can't ask any more than that."
With each passing game, the stakes get higher, and the pressure builds to uncharted places. Lundqvist admitted to battling self-doubt after his poor showing in Game 3; Bishop could be battling something similar.
Outside of one AHL game with the Peoria Rivermen in 2011, 11 games with the Texas Tornado of the NAHL in 2005 and a handful of NCAA tournament games, this is everything Bishop knows about postseason pressure. He can harken back to a Frozen Four game with the University of Maine, sure, but that's not quite the same as drawing on two double-overtime games in last year's Stanley Cup Final.
Teams and players generally need to go through the overwhelming sadness of a deep postseason run that falls just short before taking the final step of winning a Stanley Cup. It’s through that adversity that championships are usually forged. Those painful experiences become something on which players can draw when in those situations again.
Lundqvist has that; Bishop does not.
The other difference between Lundqvist and Bishop is one the former talked about after Game 4. Lundqvist said he felt he was playing OK in Games 2 and 3, but against a team of the caliber of the Lightning, OK isn’t good enough. OK will serve to only make him and his team look bad on the way to a playoff exit.
The Lightning found their offensive legs in Games 3 and 4 and pumped 79 shots on Lundqvist; with that type of volume, Lundqvist is right—he can’t just be OK.
The Rangers, meanwhile, have been scratching and crawling to keep up—they had 28 shots in Game 3 and 24 in Game 4.
All Bishop needed to be in Tampa was OK, and he wasn't able to accomplish that.
So what will happen during Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers will have the final say on matchups and had 67 shots in Games 1 and 2? OK wasn't good enough for Lundqvist in Tampa, and it probably won't be good enough for Bishop in New York.
"He's been great for us all year," Valtteri Filppula said. "I think a lot of those goals, they bounce off somewhere, there is not a whole lot he could have done. I think he's one of the biggest reasons why we're here right now, so I have a lot of confidence in him."
Bishop is plenty capable of being just OK or even very good, as he has proved in the regular season and even earlier in these playoffs. But he hasn’t proved it in this series, and maybe that has to do with injury or a lack of experience in a situation of this magnitude.
Lundqvist did some soul-searching and rose to the occasion on the road in Game 4.
If Bishop doesn’t do the same in Game 5, he will likely find himself lamenting a wasted season that will be good for only one thing—gaining the experience he doesn't have now.
All statistics via NHL.com.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.