Goalie Ben Bishop is the Lightning's #1 netminder, which is an undeniable, non-arguable fact. One of the fantastic hands in team history, the 29 year old's efforts have helped get the team into the playoffs for what is now three consecutive seasons. Think about that and team history, folks... Nikolai Khabibulin got the team into the playoffs twice (oh, and their name on Lord Stanley's Cup) before departing via free agency. Darren Puppa put in a sound effort in his time with the Bolts but only got to the playoffs once - the franchise's first time in the post-season.
Bishops history and Tampa Bay Lightning team history is why I want to make a little request. Jon Cooper, sir? Can you please do everyone a favor and start Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning's last two games of the season?
Despite the loss Tuesday night against the New York Rangers, the Bolts are going to the 2016 NHL playoffs. While playoff seeding is still in question here, there is an issue at play and a historic aspect that has to be taken into consideration here. That's physical status and the current conditions of the roster as a whole.
The final two games of the regular season now amount to preseason games. These are second season preseason games for the clubs that will be part of the playoffs; it's an opportunity to get them in order. The Lightning's offense and defense are in need of getting back on track after losing Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman, and two games in a row. Goaltending can be faulted but the efforts of those in front of the pipes are also why things went so poorly at Barclays Center on Monday and Madison Square Garden (oh, what a collapse!) on Tuesday evening.
Here's the thing: Andrei Vasilevskiy plays better when he plays more regularly. He hasn't seen consecutive starts since I-don't-know-when at the NHL level (check his game-by-game stuff from this season). He's seen consistent play at the AHL level on conditioning stints and shined brightly with it (he's played in 12 games, posting a 7-4-1 record with a 1.94 GAA and a .935 save percentage along with one shutout). As part of the Lightning though, what Vasy sees consistently is bench time. He's not going to play a sharp game if he only sees rare opportunities.
To sit Bishop the final two games of the season (ultimately three games when you include Tuesday) is not punishment or deliberately trying to prop up Vasy with the future in mind. The future is in mind: the second season. Bishop is incredible, capable, dependable, and he should be part of the Vezina Trophy finalists group this spring... But Bishop also has one item in history that's helped end the Lightning's quest for the Stanley Cup: Injuries. Don't read that as if Bishop is a fragile netminder, he's got enough starts in the regular season the last three seasons (63, 62, and 60 in 2013-14, '14-15 and '15-16 respectively) to prove that conclusion's a fallacy. The fact is that no one can be expected to remain in perfect health while carrying such a heavy workload for so many months.
The timing of when Bishop's been hobbled or felled by injuries has been in the post-season and when that's happened, the Lightning has fallen. In 2013-14, Ben was clipped by injury before the playoffs started. It resulted in Tampa Bay being taken out in the 1st round of the playoffs. Last year it was in the Stanley Cup Finals, though Bishop played through his injury.
While everyone wants Ben Bishop to be honed and ready for the playoffs, does that require him getting another pair of starts in this brisk-paced close to the season? The biggest reason the Lightning may want to put their best foot forward in the crease these last two games is because of the Detroit Red Wings game in-hand on the Lightning. Detroit's last games are a challenging schedule with two teams still vying for the playoffs themselves (the Flyers and the more pressing opponent, the Boston Bruins) along with heir finale against the New York Rangers.
Yet what's the hot aspect is home ice advantage. Every team needs more than just a preferable schedule to truly vie in the playoffs.
The Lightning doesn't want to be short another excellent player if they want to contend. Losing Ben Bishop would be another rough loss for the club and the conclusion to a disappointing season. While sitting Bishop the last two games of the season wouldn't guarantee his health remain proper in the playoffs, it's a more sound decision to have him rested when he is so highly depended upon for the team's success.