TAMPA, Fla. -- St. Louis native Ben Bishop said it "wouldn't be the end of the world" if he didn't get the assignment in goal Saturday night for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But Bishop, whom the Blues traded to Ottawa for a second-round pick in 2012 and then was dealt again to Tampa Bay, admitted that starting against his former team and hometown club for the first time in his career is "something you would enjoy."
Bishop did receive the nod Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, where a crowd of 18,885 thoroughly enjoyed the performance of the goalie in a 4-2 victory over the Blues. He made 28 saves for his ninth victory of the season, stopping the visitor's winning streak at three games and point-streak at six games.
"It was definitely special," Bishop said. "First time I ever played against them. I grew up rooting for them, going to games, drafted by them, played for them. A lot of friends over there, so it was definitely special."
It was a head-to-head battle between Bishop and Blues starter Jaroslav Halak Saturday. While Bishop lived up to the billing throughout the game, Halak was good early but the Blues allowed two third-period goals, proving to be the difference.
The score was tied 2-2 on goals by the Blues' Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo, but Tampa Bay's Brett Connolly scored on a deflection with 11 minutes 23 seconds left in regulation and Valtteri Filppula added another with 3:59 to play, sealing the win for the Lightning.
"The game was right there ... we had chances," Schwartz said. "Bishop made some timely saves, and Jaro did too, but they got the big goal for their team."
The game was also a battle between two of the top three goal scorers in the NHL -- by the end of the night, they were the top two.
The Blues' Alexander Steen still maintains his league lead with 12, but he was held scoreless for only the second time in 12 games this season. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who began the night in third place, leapfrogged Washington's Alex Ovechkin with his 11th of the season.
The Blues picked up the game's first goal for the ninth time this season Saturday, but Stamkos' goal gave the Lightning their first lead of the game, 2-1, just 1:43 into the second period.
Fifteen seconds after Halak came out of nowhere for a save on Connolly, Stamkos skated into the slot and forced Pietrangelo into a slide. Stamkos had a give-me look at the net and he doesn't miss on those, scoring for the fourth consecutive game.
"He's a good player," Halak said. "Give him credit, he knows where to shoot. He made a good play on it. Petro went down and tried to get it with his stick and (Stamkos) shot it in the right place. Maybe I could have done something else, maybe be on top of the crease ... it's easy to say now."
The Blues struck back 2:02 later. Schwartz outmuscled Tampa Bay defenseman Matthew Carle to center ice and let go one of his patented wrist shots, beating Bishop for his third goal of the season.
"They kind of took the momentum to us," Schwartz said. "It was nice to tie it up."
The score remained 2-2 after two periods despite power plays for each club late in the middle frame. But both units stalled, going 0 for 2 through 40 minutes.
The game was even most of the night.
The Blues went ahead 1-0 on Pietrangelo's fourth goal of the season, his fourth straight game with a goal. After alertly keeping possession in the offensive zone, the defenseman fired an innocent wrist shot on net and the puck sneaked past Bishop.
David Backes and Steen earned assists on the goal, extending Steen's point-streak to a career-high seven games. It was also Steen's 18th point of the season, ranking him fourth in the NHL.
Tampa Bay bounced back with a goal by Alex Killorn. Pietrangelo blocked Killorn's first shot, but the Lightning winger scooped up the rebound and put the puck past Halak for a 1-1 tie with 9:16 left in the first period.
The goal marked the first even-strength goal against the Blues in 225:55, dating back three-plus games. The last such goal allowed by the Blues belonged to Vancouver's Ryan Kesler on Oct. 25. Since then, the Blues had allowed four goals on two power-play goals and two shorthanded tallies.
The Blues had a golden opportunity to take a one-goal lead into the first intermission, but Bishop stopped Chris Stewart in his tracks.
Stewart found himself on a breakaway after Backes broke up a play. But with Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman chasing him down, Stewart took aim at Bishop from 20 feet and was denied.
"I knew (Hedman) was getting closer and I knew Stewart could feel him, so I was back and had a pretty good feeling Stewart was going to shoot, and sure enough he did," Bishop said. "I figured he was going to shoot it, and most guys try to go five-hole."
It was one of many dandy stops the ex-Blue made on a night when he turned aside his former club.
"(Bishop) has been a big part of our success," Tampa Bay forward B.J. Crombeen, another former Blue, said. "It was basically the way he's played all year for us, but I think it probably meant something a little extra for him."
(c)2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services