By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop stood tall in the biggest moments of the Lightning's playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final, fueling the Florida team's hopes of a second NHL crown in 11 years.
A towering presence in the net, the 6-foot-7 (2.01 m) goaltender might prove to be the final piece needed for the team to win another championship.
The Lightning have an explosive attack that led the NHL in goals, and a strong, veteran defensive corps but Bishop was entering his first NHL postseason.
While there were some high-scoring defeats, Bishop was brilliant when it mattered most.
He shut out the Detroit Red Wings in Game Seven of their first-round series, and shut down the Rangers in Game Five and Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals, both at New York's Madison Square Garden.
All of Bishop's shutouts were by the same 2-0 count, the last one sending Tampa Bay to the best-of-seven title series against the Chicago Blackhawks, starting in Florida on Wednesday.
"We have no doubt how he can play," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the Game Five win over the Rangers.
"You're not getting here without good goaltending. Bish is a top-tier goaltender in this league, and he's shown it."
Bishop and his mates overcame a hiccup in Game Six of the conference final when New York avoided elimination with a 7-3 win at Tampa Bay.
"Obviously they got some bounces last game and some open looks, (but) I feel pretty confident in this building," Bishop said after extending his scoreless streak against the Rangers to seven periods in a row in Game Seven.
"I wasn't too worried about it. I was just looking forward to getting out there again."
Bishop was bucking odds that seemed to favor New York, whose goalie Henrik Lundqvist had won six successive Game Sevens for the Rangers, winners of their last 10 playoff games when facing elimination at the Garden.
"Obviously, we all knew his record," he said about Lundqvist. "You saw it all over the TV, and there wasn't many people picking us, so it's nice."
Coach Cooper said: "As the series have gone on, and the longer they've gone on, he's elevated his game."
For Bishop, a life-long dream has already been achieved.
"You're always dreaming about playing for the Stanley Cup, when you're on the street, playing in the driveway and all that stuff," said Bishop.
"Do you think it's going to be a reality? It seems pretty far away when you're that young, coming out of St. Louis. But with a lot of help and hard work, we're here."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)