TAMPA, Fla. — When the Tampa Bay Lightning were playing musical goalies, Steven Stamkos and his teammates didn’t know what was going on.
Ben Bishop abruptly left Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, returned briefly, and then was replaced for good by rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“We were kind of listening to the announcements of who was in net for our team,” Stamkos said.
By the end of the night it was Vasilevskiy, the 20-year-old thrown into the fire against the Chicago Blackhawks after Bishop left in the third period with an undisclosed ailment. Coach Jon Cooper refused to explain what happened to Bishop, and Tampa Bay’s starter was not made available to reporters because he was getting treatment.
The bizarre situation, which may or may not linger to Game 3 Monday and beyond, was a first for Cooper.
“This one, on this stage at this time, it was a little bit new for me,” he said.
After a conversation with Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman at the bench just before, Bishop left the game 7:17 into the third period. It was only at that moment Vasilevskiy knew he was going into the game.
Vasilevskiy was in net when Jason Garrison scored the game-winning power-play goal, and Bishop returned at that point, 8:49 into the third. He lasted just over three minutes before exiting the game for good.
The aftermath of the Lightning’s 4-3 victory to tie the series at a game apiece didn’t provide any clarity on the situation.
“I hate to be that guy, I know I talk way too much when I get up here, but I won’t answer a question about the goaltending and what happened tonight,” Cooper said to open his post-game news conference.
Vasilevskiy stopped all five shots he faced in two separate stints to pick up his first NHL playoff victory. It was his third relief appearance of this post-season after appearing in Game 4 against Montreal and Game 6 against the New York Rangers. He is the first goalie to win his first career playoff game in relief in the Stanley Cups final since 1928, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“The one thing about Vasilevskiy, I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders,” Cooper said. “When Bish had to leave, there wasn’t an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself.
“The kid proved it when he went in. He was great.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press