Game 61 recap: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning falter on second night of back to back in 6-3 loss to Colorado Avalanche

After winning 4-2 the night before against the Dallas Stars, the goaltender and the team behind him finally ran out of gas in the thin air in Denver, giving up four unanswered goals (including a pair of empty netters) in the third period to turn a 3-2 lead into a 6-3 loss.

There's been plenty of research done to suggest that even the most elite goaltenders shouldn't start consecutive games in back-to-back situations.

It's easy to look at how great Ben Bishop has been this season for the Tampa Bay Lightning and just assume he should start every game from here until the playoffs. He is, after all, stopping 5% more shots than his normal backup, Anders Lindback, who is currently on a conditioning assignment with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

But is Jon Cooper wearing his workhorse down?

Sunday night at Pesi Center in a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, it sure looked that way.

Bishop started for the second time in 36 hours. The puck dropped yesterday at 3:07 PM Eastern time; the game ran 2 hours and 38 minutes, ending at 5:45 PM Eastern according to the official game sheet.

That meant that Bishop (and the rest of the Lightning) had about 26 and a half hours before the puck dropped on Sunday versus the Avs. Twenty-six and a half hours to travel from Dallas to Denver (including a mile-high elevation change), to rest, to wake up, and then mentally and physically prepare to play another hockey game.

Like their past two road games against the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, the Lightning got out to a pretty good start and even managed to score the first goal. Tom Pyatt finished a play in the slot off a feed from Teddy Purcell, snapping a wrist shot past Semyon Varlamov of the Avs to get the Bolts out to their third straight 1-0 lead on this road trip.

Unfortunately, the lead wouldn't hold for long, as just 30 seconds later Tyson Barrie walked in on Bishop essentially from the blue line and deposited a backhander 5-hole to tie the score 1-1. He sidestepped Tom Pyatt on the way to the net and received no resistance from Radko Gudas, who never rotated off his man in front of the net.

Ryan O'Reilly made it 2-1 after a blown clear by Sami Salo resulted in a quick transition play for the Avs. Matt Duchene tried to feed a pass through to O'Reilly in the slot, but found his skates instead of his stick. The puck hopped around a bit before finding O'Reilly, who stopped near the right circle, gathered himself, and fired a wrist shot past an unscreened Ben Bishop to put the Avs ahead. Bishop appeared to have time to reset and square up, but still failed to make the stop.

The second period saw more back-and-forth play as the teams traded chances, but only Nate Thompson could convert anything. He scored a pair of goals on similar-looking bad angle wide drives from left wing, somehow sneaking a pair of pucks through Varlamov to manufacture a 3-2 lead for the Lightning heading into the final frame.

That's when things began to unravel.

It started with a harmless enough hooking penalty to Sami Salo, putting the Avs on the power play just a few minutes into the third. The Lightning penalty kill -- which has struggled all season long -- did mostly good work for the first minute and a half of the man advantage for Colorado, but with time winding down, Ryan O'Reilly was able to snap a pass straight through the crease to a waiting Nick Holden at the weak side who tapped it in to tie the game at 3 goals apiece. Bishop had zero chance to stop what was a very well-executed (if poorly defended) play.

The goal that followed, however, belongs almost entirely to Bishop. Matt Carle, like Salo before, did botch a zone exit pass, but the Lightning were in good position to defend. Erik Johnson skated in and lost the puck in his skates, so he was forced to circle back towards the half-wall. There, he shot a slow floater towards the net, likely looking for a tip or rebound. But the puck somehow eluded Bishop, and Johnson's unassisted tally gave the Avs the lead for good, 4-3.

Colorado would score a pair of late empty-net goals by Nick Holden and Paul Stastny to make the final score 6-3.

Perhaps it's hindsight bias, or revisionist history, but one simply has to wonder if Bishop was affected at all by fatigue. The goals scored by O'Reilly and Johnson certainly seemed to suggest Bishop wasn't on top of his game, because while we expect some downward regression for him, we don't expect what should be routine saves to become game-winning goals. Untested rookie North American pro Kristers Gudlevskis, of Olympic fame with Latvia, dressed as the back-up, and it's legitimate to wonder if perhaps he should have started in this game.

The Lightning have tomorrow off before facing the new-look St. Louis Blues on Tuesday to wrap up the current road trip.

Game Notes
  • I'm not even going to say "I hate to say I told you so", because most people are lying when they say it, but this was me, yesterday:
  • It may seem like oversimplifying, or like I'm blaming one player for the loss. This is not the case. This is an instance where there is reliable data available which should help inform a decision-making process. That data is either unknown or ignored by Cooper and the Lightning coaching staff. The result? 4 goals allowed by Bishop on 33 shots, a save percentage of .879, and a regulation loss. This was potentially avoidable.
  • Radko Gudas exited left part-way through the game with a "lower body injury". The severity (or nature) of this injury is as of yet unknown. Gudas did not return the game. Expect an update sometime before the game vs. the Blues on Tuesday.
  • Cooper highlighted this in his post-game presser, but even in defeat, the Lightning are still playing okay at 5v5. It's special teams that continue to be a serious issue. The game-tying goal came late on a power play where again the Lightning skaters failed to deny a cross-slot or cross-crease pass, and the Bolts went 0/2 on their own power play, including missing on a late chance to save a point in the standings with Jan Hejda in the box for tripping Martin St. Louis.