Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Ben Bishop ... the puckstopper like no one else

Larry Wigge

Just call him hockey's version of the Human Eraser.

You get it. He zeroes the opposition in closing them out in the playoffs like Marty Brodeur and Patrick Roy.

Ben Bishop made 28 saves to produce a 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders Sunday after flawlessly turning back 34 shot in a 1-0 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings last month.

That's four times he has done that in five such wins during the past two playoffs. Bishop's the first goaltender in NHL history to produce multiple series-clinching shutout wins in each of two different playoff years. No other active NHL goaltender has had two such shutouts in one year.

"Bish put up some pretty remarkable numbers for us," center Brian Boyle said. "Our goaltending has held us in there until we get our legs ... especially in Game 3 and 4 against the Islanders."

"He's bailed us out so many times," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.

Said Ryan Callahan, "It seems like he plays his best when big games are on the line."

That's what all the great goaltenders do.

"You don't ever want to be content," Bishop explained. "You see guys that are consistent."

He mentioned Hendrik Lundqvist of the Rangers as being a goalie who's worked at his trade and it's taken him to the Stanley Cup finals.

"He's so big, but he's quick," said New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider of Bishop. "He doesn't get caught out of the net too often. He uses his size, he stays in his crease and dares you to beat him."

"I think it's an advantage to be this big," the 6-7, 214 pounder. "I don't think there's anything that a smaller guy can do that I can't. And there's many things I can do that he can't. I mean, I like to think I'm just as athletic as those small guys, if not more athletic, so I don't think it's a disadvantage."

The two shutouts this year give him 21 in his career -- tying Nikolai Khabibulin for the Lightning record in playoff shutouts.

It was quite a contrast for coach John Cooper to see Bishop in his debut for Tampa Bay compared to when Cooper first saw the up-and-coming goaltender in the North American Hockey League. Back then, Bishop's Texas Tornado team was knocking out Cooper's Texarkana Bandits in the 2004-05 playoffs.

"I'll tell you, for somebody that size and you have to get up and down, up and down at 18 years old and your leg muscles are not developed yet, it's hard on you," Cooper said. "He was kind of a gangly kid back then, but he has really developed into his body, he's strong, his legs are strong, so now he's strong in all those areas and now he doesn't break down like he did when he was younger.

"So if tonight game is any indication of what he is going to be, it's going to bode well for us."

Big is better? No one better than Brodeur spoke out about how good Bishop was in his first kick of the playoff can.

"It's imperative to be good in the playoffs," Brodeur explained. "It's not easy to be good during the regular season, but you get recognized for what you do in the playoffs. That's just the mind-set people have. There are things you do, shutouts that you accomplish in certain games, in Game 7s, or you get the experience.

"Goalies have a lot to do about the team, because if the team is not good, you can be really good but never get that recognition. But it's important that playoff hockey is part of your resume if you want to be one of the elite goalies."

Were you ever worried you son was going to grow too tall to play hockey?

"Absolutley," said Ben Bishop II. "I think when he was in grade school in maybe seventh or eighth grade he was already 6-2 when the other kids were much smaller.

"But today a lot of the players are getting taller. I let him do his own thing and everybody that sees him now wants to know what basketball team he plays on, not what hockey team he plays on."

Bishop, born in Denver, Colorado, but raised in St. Louis and became the Blues third-round pick, 85th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

He is the son of Ben Bishop II, who runs Western Waterproofing, a construction company in St. Louis West County. Cindy, his mom, is a nurse. Bishop's grandfather was a tennis professional, who played in the US Open. Neither of Bishop's parents are nearly as tall as he is; his father is 6-1 and his mother is 5-3 tall.

He was a forward until age 8. Then, he switched to goaltender.

How often do you get asked how tall you are?

"A lot," he says, shaking his head. "It probably averages out to once a day."

Goalie Curtis Joseph was his favorite, growing up in St. Louis in the 1990's. Joseph's competitive attitude in goal was one of the things that Bishop remembers most.

"As a kid, I would put a tape into a VCR and watch hockey games," said Bishop.

He would study goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Olie Kolzig.

"Ever since I was in junior, I was a big video guy," Bishop said. "I would watch a lot of tape by myself, not with a coach or anything, when it was available. To this day, I still like to watch a lot of video. I was sort of self-taught, as I was able to watch those videos and kind of go back and nitpick myself."

Fast forward 12 years and Bishop still watches plenty of video of himself playing goal. But he has worked his way from those formative teenage years to become one of the National Hockey League's top goalies.

Ben Bishop speaks, you better listen.

"When something has to be said, Ben will say what he has to say," Cooper said. "When a game is in the balance, he'll be the first guy to come to the bench and say, 'Boys, I've got this, you just look after your side and I'll look after the other.' And he really is exuding lots of confidence now."

Confidence. The Lightning are just eight victories short of drinking from the Stanley Cup.

He remembers last June. Bishop remembers it all to well.

He was sitting in his locker stall June 15 at the United Center, listening to the Blackhawks celebrate their Stanley Cup victory over the Lightning.

The Stanley Cup, Bishop remembers, had to be wheeled by the Lightning dressing room on its way to the party. It made Bishop sick.

"You remember all of it," Bishop said. "You try not to."

Some memories never leave you.

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