The Tampa Bay Lightning wouldn't be here without Ben Bishop.
Yes, his numbers this season aren't the Vezina-caliber, eye-popping stats he produced a season ago when he was a Vezina trophy finalist. His save percentage dropped from .924 to a near-league average .916. "Near league-average" is probably an apt way to describe Bishop; he's good, certainly capable of stealing a game or a series, but not a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination. That's what Bishop is.
In many ways, he's exactly what the Lightning need: competent. Capable. When the Lightning play relentless Jon Cooper hockey, Bishop is more than enough to pull out a win. We've seen that reflected in this series, particularly with the strong starts enjoyed by the Lightning in all four games so far.
There's a reason why Bishop won 40 games this season and the Lightning over 50 -- the team is built to win without a perennial Vezina finalist in net. Being reliable and capable is all that's required, and Bishop has been a workhorse for this team since coming over via trade with the Ottawa Senators. He endeared himself to this city and this fanbase quickly -- a tall (no pun intended) task for another gamble goaltender coming to Tampa Bay on the heels of the failed Anders Lindback experiment. That Cory Conacher was once a nigh-untouchable fan favorite seems like a distant memory now.
In terms of legacy in a Lightning uniform, Bishop is arguably second only to Nikolai Khabibulin in the (admittedly thin) pantheon of Lightning goaltenders, regardless of this series' outcome. He's earned that already in helping the Lightning through difficult series against the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers, often bailing out the team in front of them as they struggled to find their game against some of the East's toughest competition.
"The injury" -- associate coach Rick Bowness inadvertently confirmed it as such yesterday -- obviously has to be taken into consideration. Bishop's long-term health is a concern, and Andrei Vasilevskiy has proven to be more than capable in net, even against a stacked Chicago Blackhawks roster. Vasya is undoubtedly the future, and the future is soon. Very soon.
Detached, cold logic says start the healthy young netminder. He must give you a better chance to win, right? And maybe he does. Still, there's a certain poetic injustice done to Bishop and this version of the Tampa Bay Lightning in winning or losing this Cup Final with Bishop watching from the bench or the press box.
Assuming nothing has gotten worse since Game 3, and if Bishop feels he can go, he should go. As tough as it is to watch him lurch and grimace and struggle in net, and as difficult as it is to push logic aside, the way this season should end should be the way this season began: with Ben Bishop in net. For better or worse, this story deserves to end -- in ecstasy or in tragedy -- with Bishop still a main character.