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Ben Bishop has a big fan in Martin Brodeur

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA -- Look at Ben Bishop and the first thing you see is his size. The man stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 216 pounds in street clothes. Put him in skates and goalie equipment, and he's 6-9 and wide. If you're a shooter and he cuts down the angle for the Tampa Bay Lightning, you might be able to spot a strand or two of the net, if you're lucky.

But what makes Bishop special -- a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time, a difference-maker in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- is that he isn't just big. He's an athlete who moves the puck as well as any goalie in hockey. And as he accumulates success and experience, he's establishing himself more and more as not only a confident goalie but a source of confidence for his team.

Bishop was pulled from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round after allowing four goals on 13 shots against the New York Islanders, and the Lightning went on to lose 5-3. No big deal. He allowed one goal on 20 shots in a 4-1 win in Game 2, making sharp stops in the first period when the Islanders were threatening.

"That was a no-doubter for us," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

Of course Bishop was going to bounce back. He's 5-2 in these playoffs with a 2.02 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and one shutout. He's 9-2 in postseason starts after a loss in his career.

"I'm impressed," former New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said recently.

And if Brodeur is impressed, that's saying something. Brodeur didn't have Bishop's height -- he's listed at 6-2 -- but he relied on his athleticism and puck-handling. He holds the NHL record for wins with 691, far more than anyone else, and won the Vezina Trophy four times and the Stanley Cup three times. He is now the assistant general manager of the St. Louis Blues.

"For a big guy, he's not just a blocker," Brodeur said of Bishop. "He likes to play the game. He's a gamer. He's really an aware goaltender, the way he plays. He talks a lot. He moves the puck well. He's a little bit ahead of the play all the time.

"The big goalies, they have a harder time doing that usually, because they're so used to saying, 'Well, I'm going to cover as much of the net as possible.' They kind of minimize their movement. But that's not the case with him."

Bishop didn't end up in the net because he was big growing up in St. Louis. All the kids took turns playing goalie and Bishop was good at it. He enjoyed the position, especially because it let him play the entire game. But at the same time, he still loved shooting pucks and scoring goals.

He still wanted to move. This was a kid who participated in all kinds of sports: swimming, diving, tennis, golf, soccer. He played middle school football. He played high school baseball as a freshman before he concentrated on high-level hockey.

"I was never really, like, into goalie equipment or just the goalie stuff," Bishop said. "I was always more wanting to play forward whenever I had the chance. I never wanted to play goalie in street hockey or anything. I always wanted to be a forward."

No wonder Bishop doesn't stay in his crease, and no wonder he developed the skills to excel outside of it.

Not that it has been easy. Bishop's hometown team selected him in the third round (No. 85) in the 2005 NHL Draft, but he played 13 games for the Blues over three seasons. Then he played 23 games for the Ottawa Senators over two seasons. When he ended up with the Lightning in 2012-13, he had to beat out Anders Lindback.

"Bishop was a little bit of an unknown," Cooper said. "We were his third NHL team, and he hadn't found his way yet. He was a little bit of a later developer, but when he got his chance, he seized the opportunity."

Bishop broke out in 2013-14. He was a Vezina finalist, going 37-14-7 with a 2.23 GAA and .924 SV%. But an injury kept him from competing in the playoffs and the Lightning were swept in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens.

When the playoffs arrived last season, his lack of experience made him a question mark.

"Similar situation with me," Brodeur said. "I came in as a young guy, had a good team in front of me, and I lived through huge experiences early in my career. It's only the organization that's going to give you that break. You've got to make the best of that break, but not everybody has that chance."

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 09: Former New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur smiles as he leaves the ice after his jersey retirement ceremony before the game between the New Jersey Devils and the Edmonton Oilers on 9, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In his first two playoff runs with the New Jersey Devils, Brodeur went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and won the Stanley Cup.

Bishop helped the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final last season with a 2.18 GAA, .921 save percentage and three shutouts; two of them in Game 7 situations. One of those Game 7 shutouts came in the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers, after he allowed five goals on 26 shots in a 7-3 loss in Game 6.

"I think the first series was a little bit of a learning experience, and then the deeper you go, you realize that if you lose a game, it doesn't really matter if you lose 7-0 or if you lose 1-0," Bishop said. "It's a loss. Stats kind of go out the door. It's just more, 'All right, let's worry about the next one.' You can't really dwell on the whole game. It's just one game at a time. I think last year I was kind of able to kind of figure that out."

Bishop went 35-21-4 this season and put up the best numbers of his career: 2.06 goals-against average, .926 save percentage, six shutouts. He said he became more consistent because he kept to the same routine no matter what. When the playoffs arrived, no one fretted about experience. When he got pulled in Game 1 against the Islanders, everyone just looked at his history.

"There's confidence already in place," Cooper said.

It's funny. As a kid in St. Louis, Bishop was a big Curtis Joseph fan. But as he got older, he branched out and loved watching Brodeur for how he played the puck and never seemed rattled.

"You look at Marty, the way he treated games - wins, losses, everything, he didn't really let it bother him," Bishop said.

Now Brodeur loves watching Bishop for much the same reasons.

"I'm still a big hockey fan," Brodeur said. "I look at good athletes playing that position, because that's what I felt I was. And so seeing Bishop play … He's a pretty good goalie, pretty fun to watch, you know?"

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