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Lightning coach calls idea of benching Ben Bishop 'asinine'

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ST. PETERSBURG — After Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, it was the Rangers’ top players that were coming under fire, something coach Alain Vigneault took in stride. Now the performance of one of the Lightning’s top players is prompting questions about his role, and Jon Cooper was none too pleased.

The Tampa Bay coach was asked Saturday as the team readied to fly to New York for Sunday’s Game 5, which will break a 2-2 series deadlock, about the possibility of a change at goaltender, one that would send Ben Bishop to the bench for rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Cooper responded by calling the notion “asinine” and “preposterous.”

Bishop had been terrific in net for the Lightning for much of his first postseason before allowing five goals in each of the last two games. In Friday’s 5-1 Rangers win, Bishop wasn’t tested nearly as much as his counterpart Henrik Lundqvist, but he could only save 19 of the 24 shots he faced.

Vigneault faced the same question on Thursday the night after Lundqvist gave up six goals for the second straight game, the first time he had ever done so in the playoffs. Vigneault at first smirked and thought he was being joked with. Disbelief seemed to set in when he was pressed on it, but he answered “Hank’s the guy,” politely and quickly moved on.

Despite giving up five goals in a Game 4 loss, Ben Bishop is still pick of coach Jon Cooper.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Despite giving up five goals in a Game 4 loss, Ben Bishop is still pick of coach Jon Cooper.

At times Vigneault has mentioned a need for the Rangers’ best players to play to their talent level, and Lundqvist responded with perhaps his best game of the playoffs in Game 4, making 31 of his 38 saves over the final two periods.

Rick Nash, the superstar forward who has too often failed to carry his elite regular-season form into the playoffs, finally rose to the occasion with two goals and an assist in Game 4, notching his first-ever multi-goal playoff game. One would think after Nash had the most productive postseason game of his career following a long stretch of scoring woes, he’d have a pretty good night’s sleep.

“No, I didn’t, actually,” Nash said Saturday morning at the Rangers’ hotel, about 11 hours removed from a two-goal effort. “It’s really strange. I was having great sleeps and then last night I couldn’t sleep. It was weird.”

Nash’s performance Friday night seemed weird, at least by his playoff standards. The Rangers’ regular-season juggernaut, who set a career-high with 42 goals this year, began the night with just seven goals in 56 career playoff games – six goals in 52 over his three postseasons as a Ranger.

The team couldn’t have asked for a better time for his greatest playoff moment. With the Rangers trailing the series 2-1 and still on the road after Nash had one of his worst games as a Ranger in Game 3, he scored the team’s first and last goals on Friday to help them level the series.

Now the question is whether or not Friday was an outlier or a titanic shift in the right direction for the left wing. He had just two goals in 15 games this postseason entering Friday. The first was a meaningless goal in the waning seconds of a Game 2 loss in the first round against Pittsburgh. His Game 6 tally at Washington in the second round doubled the Rangers’ lead early in the third period, but he hadn’t scored since before Friday.

“It’s a struggle when you’re not scoring,” Nash said, following up on incredibly honest comments he made after Friday’s win during which he revealed he felt like he was letting his teammates and organization down by not scoring. “I think it tests you mentally, it tests you emotionally. But at the end of the day it’s not about you, it’s about the team and anything you can do to help the team win. If the team’s winning, you’re obviously happy and smiling.”

Martin St. Louis, who finally scored his first goal of the playoffs on a power play in the third after taking a high-stick to the face, said on Tuesday that success both individually and offensively comes from having “swagger.” He saw that regained in Game 4.

“I felt (Friday,) yeah, we did play with some swagger, and you want to keep that,” he said. “I think swagger comes and goes. As a player, as a team, it does, and you have to fight to get it back when you don’t have it.”

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