TAMPA BAY, Fla. – Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop probably hasn’t drawn a lot of comparisons to Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel but it may not be long before he does.
After all, Bishop and Kimbrel are arguably the two most dominant closers in their respective games right now.
Bishop skated a few more strides into that realm on Sunday, when he backstopped the 4-0 Lightning victory that closed out their Eastern Conference semifinal-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
The 4-0 shutout at Amalie Arena marked the fourth time in five series-clinching games over the last two years that Bishop has not allowed a goal in what proved to be a series clincher for Tampa Bay.
“He’s produced some pretty remarkable numbers for us,’’ center Brian Boyle said of Bishop. “It’s been like that this whole season. He’s just been phenomenal for us.’’
A Vezina Trophy finalist as the NHL’s top goaltender, Bishop finished up the regular season ranked first in the league in goals against average (2.06) and second in save percentage (0.926) and shutouts (six).
He’s been even more stingy here in the playoffs, allowing an average of 1.89 goals per game through 10 games with a save percentage of 0.938 and two shutouts, tied for tops with Washington’s Brian Holtby.
“You just can’t say enough about what he’s meant to us,’’ Lightning right winger Ryan Callahan said. “It just seems like he plays his best in the big games or when something big is on the line.’’
Sunday’s game wasn’t necessarily a big one for the Lightning. They could have lost and still closed out the series with a victory in Game 6 in Brooklyn or Game 7 back at Amelie Arena.
There was something on the line, though, and that was the extra couple of days the Lightning now have to relax, rest up, and heal before moving on to their second consecutive Eastern Conference final.
After playing in 25 of his team’s 26 playoff games last year, Bishop said the idea of getting a little more time to prepare for the finals served as incentive to finish the series out quickly.
“I take pride in closing teams out and now we’ve done it (in five games) two series in a row,’’ Bishop said, referring to Tampa Bay’s five-game first-round elimination of the Red Wings.
“I mean, when you think of the long travel (we have to endure) being here in Tampa, we really didn’t want to get back on an airplane and go back up north (for a Game 6).’’
Bishop saw to it there would be no Game 6. Early in the first period he kicked aside a scoring chance off the stick of Shane Prince, who ripped a wrist shot from the slot after taking a centering pass below the hash marks.
Two periods later, after a puck caromed off the glass behind Bishop and came back out front to Johnny Boychuk, Bishop darted from one side of the net to the other to keep Boychuk from cutting into what was then a 3-0 Tampa Bay lead.
Those saves are part of the reason the Lightning have allowed just one goal in their five close-out playoff victories the last two years. When told of that stat on Sunday, Lightning coach Jon Cooper gave a simple explanation for his team’s defensive domination.
“Two words,’’ Cooper said. “And they both start with B.’’