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Bishop says Stars, Central foes make up 'best division' in NHL

Dallas goalie points to quick start as crucial to get jump on talented opponents

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Ben Bishop said he knows how stiff the competition will be in the Central Division this season.

"It's got to be the best division; I don't think there's really even a question," the Dallas Stars goalie said at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago on Friday. "You look from top to bottom, if you try to predict the standings in the Central right now, it's a crapshoot.

"You've just got to focus on making the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. Every division game is going to be important. You've got to get off to a good start in the division and try to get as many wins as you can in the beginning because it will be tough to play catch-up."

The 32-year-old was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL last season after he led the League with a .934 save percentage, was second with a 1.98 goals-against average, and was third with seven shutouts. He was 27-15-2 in 46 games (45 starts) and set a Stars record with an NHL career-long shutout streak of 233:04 from March 2-19, winning six straight games over that span. He led NHL goalies who played at least 15 games in even-strength save percentage (.938).

But the Central Division added another Vezina finalist during the offseason; Robin Lehner, who helped the New York Islanders reach the Easterm Conference Second Round, signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 1. Other goalies in the Central include Jordan Binnington (who won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues), Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators), Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets), Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota Wild) and Philipp Grubauer (Colorado Avalanche).

"It's fun for me as a goalie, because every matchup in the Central, you're playing against another really good goalie," Bishop said. "It's kind of fun in that sense."

But Bishop, a Blues fan growing up who played some high school hockey at Chaminade College Preparatory School in St. Louis, admitted it wasn't easy watching them win the Cup. Bishop made 52 saves in a 2-1 double-overtime loss to the Blues in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round on May 7. St. Louis went on to defeat the Boston Bruins in seven games in the Cup Final.

"Especially in the Finals," Bishop said, "people were asking me, 'Who are you rooting for?' It was always the same answer. I said, 'Neither.' It's one of those things where if you haven't won it yourself, you kind of selfishly don't want anybody else to win it. It was one of those things, kind of bittersweet.

"I'm happy for a lot of people in that organization and the city. My dad was a season-ticket holder when I was a kid. … To see them achieve that goal, I think the city was more than deserving."

NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report

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