VANCOUVER -- As disappointed as Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop was to hear reports earlier this week he wasn't going to be on the U.S. team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the advance notice actually helped when it became official Wednesday.
Bishop recovered quickly from learning he wouldn't be an Olympian despite being one of the NHL's best goalies this season, making 28 saves a few hours later to lead Tampa Bay to a 4-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks.
"Hearing that rumor before definitely helped me prepare for it," Bishop said of an earlier report that Jimmy Howard would join Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick as U.S. goalies in Sochi. "If I had found out today for the first time, I would have been a little bit more upset. I did everything I could to put myself in a position to make that team, but they obviously thought otherwise and I wish them the best of luck."
Bishop is back to solely focusing on the Lightning now -- the same focus that made him a part of the American Olympic conversation despite not being invited to the orientation camp during the summer.
"That just shows you the professionalism of the kid to find out you are not on the team and then four hours later go play a hockey game and have the composure to play the way he did," said coach Jon Cooper. "But that's what makes good goaltenders. It's no different than having a goal scored on you. You have to turn the page. This is your job, this is the team that comes No. 1 to you, and that's why he has been our guy -- he knows how to handle any sort of adversity."
There was plenty of that in Vancouver, especially during a wild second period capped by Nikita Kucherov's go-ahead power-play goal with 2.6 seconds left.
Tampa Bay, which hadn't won in regulation in Vancouver in 12 visits during its 21-year history, scored three times in the final 4:33 of the second period, including goals 20 seconds apart by Valtteri Filppula and Tyler Johnson, before Alex Killorn added an insurance goal on a deflection 7:28 into the third.
"We answered all night," Cooper said.
After a sloppy, scoreless first period, both offenses broke through in a wild second half to the second period, including a 34-second span that saw the teams combine for three goals.
Brad Richardson opened the scoring, putting Vancouver on top with 8:35 left in the period. Filppula and Johnson scored on consecutive shifts four minutes later to put the Lightning ahead, but Zac Dalpe scored his first with the Canucks 14 seconds after Johnson's goal to tie the game at 2-2.
Kucherov restored the lead for good after Vancouver forward Chris Higgins failed on a great chance to clear the zone. The Lightning worked the puck across to Kucherov in the right faceoff dot, and the 20-year-old Russian rookie wired a slap shot over goalie Eddie Lack's glove, off the cross bar and in for his fourth goal in 17 games.
"I saw there was like three seconds left and I just closed my eyes and shoot the puck," Kucherov said. "For me, it's an awesome goal, and I think for the team too. It's nice to start the new year with a win."
Tampa Bay, which had won five straight before losing its first two after the Christmas break, was opening a four-game Canadian road trip, the start of a stretch that includes just one game at home over eight games.
"We played a solid road game," Cooper said. "It's what you have to do if you want any chance to make the playoffs -- find ways to win on the road and hold leads."
Lack made 29 saves in his third straight start since Roberto Luongo was hurt in a Dec. 22 game against the Winnipeg Jets, but the Canucks lost in regulation for the second time in 14 games (10-2-2).
"It was our worst game of the year," coach John Tortorella said. "We deserved to lose that one. I just think it was a game that we were out of sorts, out of sync, and it wasn't just one particular guy. It was the whole team. And you know what? It's in the trash can already."
Bishop was taking a similar approach to his Olympic snub.
In his first full season as Tampa Bay's No.1 goalie, the 27-year-old is second in the NHL with 21 wins, third with a .935 save percentage, fifth with a 1.89 goals-against average and tied for second with three shutouts. But, as Cooper pointed out, Bishop has only played 75 NHL games.
"By looking at the numbers, if you were looking at just this year, does Ben deserve, numbers-wise, to be on the team? For sure he does," Cooper said, stressing he would never second-guess the roster decisions. "But if you look at the body of work of Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard and Ryan Miller, you can't argue that.
"Remember, Ben doesn't have a ton of NHL experience yet and that's a big stage, but he'll represent the U.S. in the future. He's just coming into his own right now. … The one thing Ben Bishop has done is put himself in the conversation as one of the top American goalies."
It's an argument Bishop plans to build on with the Lightning.
"It was tough and I was disappointed, but the whole year, this team has been the main focus," Bishop said. "I said all along I wasn't going to make (the Olympic) team without playing well here, and that stays the same."
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