TAMPA -- A goaltender can save a team when it is not at its best, and that's exactly what happened Thursday when Ben Bishop stopped 38 shots and the Tampa Bay Lightning stole a 4-2 win against the visiting Edmonton Oilers
The Lightning were outshot, 40-26, outchanced and basically outplayed by the Oilers but managed to come away with the victory.
"[Bishop] was the best player on the ice, hands down, for either team," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I don't need to comment on it anymore."
Tampa Bay (11-4-0) is tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Steven Stamkos scored two unassisted goals in the first period, and Tyler Johnson added the game-winner in the second, but it was Bishop, with an amazing cross-crease dive to deny Boyd Gordon on a 2-on-1 with three minutes remaining, who made the difference.
"I thought he stole them the game," Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said.
Stamkos opened the scoring when he stole the puck from Nail Yakupov inside the Edmonton blue line. After two strides down the slot, Stamkos fired and found the back of the net at 7:37 of the first period.
His second goal (13th of the season) came with 53 seconds remaining in the period. He jumped on a loose puck to the left of the Edmonton net, swung around behind the goal and whipped the puck past Devan Dubnyk, who finished with 22 saves.
"We made three mistakes tonight and two of them went to the wrong player, the one guy you don't want to have the puck when you make a mistake, and that was Mr. Stamkos," Eakins said.
Stamkos has 12 points in his past seven games. His goals sandwiched one by Edmonton's Taylor Fedun, his second in as many NHL games. Assisted by Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky, it was a wrist shot at 10:11 that finished a period of sustained pressure by the Oilers.
Valtteri Filppula scored an empty-net goal, his sixth of the season.
The Lightning are 6-0-0 against Western Conference teams this season, but that was cold comfort for Cooper.
"It's a team sport, and Bishop can play as well as he wants, but we still have to put some pucks in the net," Cooper said. "We got three. But, as I say about goaltenders, you want him to make the saves he should and if can make some he shouldn't you have got a good chance of winning. The problem was that Bishop made a lot that he shouldn't.
"I don't think we've given up scoring chances like that in the past six games combined. If you turn pucks over like we did, you are just adding fuel to the fire. It took a Herculean effort by Bishop to win it for us, but it never should have gotten to that point."
Tampa Bay extended its lead to 3-1 late in the second period when Johnson scored his fourth goal of the season. He tapped the puck into the Edmonton net from just outside the crease with 1:27 to go, finishing a pass from Richard Panik, who dodged Oilers defenders as he closed in on the left side of the net.
"That's what Richard Panik can do," Cooper said. "He's a highly skilled player that comes in a big frame."
Taylor Hall cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 at 10:22 of the third period with his fourth goal of the season when his wrist shot from the faceoff circle got past a screened Bishop. The power-play score broke Tampa Bay's string of consecutive penalty kills at 17.
Hall, appearing in his first game since a knee injury caused him to miss seven, made his presence known; he had eight shots on goal, including two breakaways Bishop stopped.
"The first period was a bit of a struggle for me, but as the game went on I got to feel the puck some more and got in tune with the game," Hall said. "It's tough when you lose. We are searching for wins right now and anything anybody can do is huge.
"I feel like there have been a lot of games this season where we outshot them and outchanced them but we don't come out with the win. It's tough, for sure."
In fact, this is one game the Oilers (4-11-2) didn't deserve to lose, according to Eakins.
"We deserved better, absolutely," Eakins said. "Boy this is a crazy game. There have been games this season where you won the game but didn't think you deserved it, and you're upset with your play, and there have been games where we lost and we were disgusted with ourselves as a group, and then there is tonight where I loved the way we played. I thought we played with passion and competed hard."
In the end, the win and the two points went to Tampa Bay, but don't tell Stamkos his team earned them.
"You can ask me anything you want but I'm not going to tell you we deserved it," he said. "It's two points and that's good, but I'm not proud of how we played."