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Blackhawks have plan for big goalies like Bishop

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Almost as impressive as advancing to the Stanley Cup Final three times in six seasons is the list of big goalies the Chicago Blackhawks have defeated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in that span.

The Blackhawks, who will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Cup Final on Wednesday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), hope to add a new one to the list: 6-foot-7, 209-pound Ben Bishop.

To do so, Chicago plans to stick to its usual game plan, captain Jonathan Toews said.

"I've definitely watched quite a bit these playoffs, and we know [the Lightning are] fast and skilled, they play a good team game," Toews said Monday before the Blackhawks traveled to Tampa. "[Their defensemen join] the play, great goaltending ... we know they don't have a whole lot of weaknesses. I think we'll have to be prepared for that and do as we normally do: talk about making things difficult on their goaltender, getting to him and making them play in their own end."

Bishop, who has a 2.15 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 20 playoff games, leads the postseason with 12 wins and three shutouts, including Game 5 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, each by a 2-0 score.

Now Bishop will get a chance to win a series against Chicago, something two similarly big goaltenders, Vezina Trophy finalists Pekka Rinne (6-foot-5) of the Nashville Predators and Devan Dubnyk (6-foot-6) of the Minnesota Wild, failed to do.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of small goaltenders out there nowadays," Toews said. "But Ben Bishop definitely covers a lot of net. We just kind of played against a really good goaltender (6-foot-3, 236-pound Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final), who was playing really well (and) who did the same -- covered a lot of net and stopped everything that he saw. So, I think to a certain degree, we've got to continue to do the (same) old things we always talk about -- traffic and that sort of stuff -- and try and make things tough on him."

Toews was talking about playing in front of the net, getting to the middle of the ice for shot attempts and getting the puck through block attempts. The formula, combined with a lot of talent, has worked to great success against some of the NHL's best, and biggest, goalies.

The Blackhawks have eliminated Rinne and the Predators from the playoffs on two occasions. They made life miserable for Roberto Luongo when he was playing for the Vancouver Canucks. They cooled off the Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask to win the 2013 Cup Final before turning Ryan Miller into the St. Louis Blues' weakness in the first round a year ago. The Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick allowed 14 goals in five games against Chicago in the 2013 conference final.

The Blackhawks grind down goalies, big and small, over the course of a series and pour in key goals when needed.

"I think there's always been some tough moments where a goaltender's had tremendous confidence against us and it doesn't look good because we were struggling to find ways to get the puck in the net early in a series," Toews said. "But I think we do have that confidence that at a certain point we can try and break things loose a little bit and turn things in our favor. So yeah, that confidence will carry into this series, but it's about our work ethic. It's about doing those things we [always] talk about to make sure we have that success."

The Blackhawks made things tough on Andersen in the conference final, especially toward the end of the series. His goals-against average and save percentage ballooned after he allowed 13 goals in the final three games, including nine of the 10 goals Chicago scored in Games 6 and 7 to clinch the series.

Ben Bishop
Goalie - TBL
RECORD: 12-8
GAA: 2.15 | SVP: .920
Bishop ran a little hot and cold in the conference final against the Rangers; he allowed five goals twice and seven goals once but also had two shutouts. There's no question he's a storyline in this best-of-7 series, and the Blackhawks hope to make it a negative one for the Lightning.

There are no secrets on how they plan to do it either.

"We've played against some big goalies in these playoffs," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I just think that no matter how big or what goalie, we always seem to talk about if we want success against them, we have to get to the net, you have to hang around there and you have to make sure you make it tough on him to find pucks. And you have to bear down on your opportunities. [Bishop's] the biggest one we've seen. We want to make sure we get to the net."

The Blackhawks have a couple big goalies to shoot against every time they practice. Chicago's Corey Crawford is 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, and backup Scott Darling is 6-foot-6, 232 pounds.

"We have two goalies and you can throw [Antti Raanta] in there as well -- they're tough guys to score on in practice," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "Anytime you can shoot on high-quality goaltenders like that, I guess it helps you as a shooter."

Sharp was injured when the Lightning came to Chicago during the regular season, so he had a chance to take a good look at Bishop while watching that game as a spectator.

"I was impressed how well he moves the puck and handles it," Sharp said. "He gets involved in the play just about every time the puck's in the [defensive] zone. So, nothing new for our team to face another top-notch goaltender. We've got to find a way to beat him."

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