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Bishop shows mental toughness in carrying Stars past Blues

The Vezina finalist shakes off an error and delivers when needed most to push St. Louis to the brink of elimination

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- Goaltending is the easiest position in hockey to judge, and yet maybe the hardest to understand.

That drama played out before 18,542 fans at Enterprise Center on Friday night as Ben Bishop stopped 38 shots and carried the Stars to a 2-1 victory that gives them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series -- even though he came very close to fumbling away that game and that series lead.

OK, maybe fumbling it away is a bit dramatic, but Bishop showed just how fragile it can be donning the mask and being the last line of defense. The veteran goalie was nursing a 2-0 lead eight minutes into the third period when a shot came hard at him. He stopped it, and decided to play the puck in the face of a charging Blues forecheck.

But instead of sending the puck into the corner or over to teammate John Klingberg, Bishop tapped it into no-man's land, and set up St. Louis forward Jaden Schwartz for a bang-bang goal that cut the Stars' lead to one and changed the complexion of Game 5.

"To be honest, I don't know," Bishop said when asked what happened. "I think I was trying to fake it and just touched it a little bit. But playing the puck as much as you do, you know that's going to happen. It's one of those things where I wasn't bothered by it -- you just really want to close it out when it happens."

And that's the important part of the story. Bishop dug in and made a series of big stops, including a spectacular reaching pad stop on Oskar Sundqvist to protect the one-goal lead.

It was a heroic answer to a big mistake, and it was a sign that Bishop can handle all of this playoff goaltending madness.

Video: Bishop on his heroic efforts for Stars in Game 5 win

"Ben Bishop was the best player in the game tonight," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "He's been the difference for us many times this year. We weren't worried on the bench when the puck went in. The saves he made on the penalty kill right after were incredible. He's just someone who responds. He's our brick wall back there."

The Stars were a suffocating beast for much of the night, so much so that Blues fans were booing their team at times. So when Bishop made his flub, the crowd went wild. When Jamie Benn took a hooking penalty 21 seconds later, the roof started to rattle.

It was a clear sign of just how much can change in a Stanley Cup playoff game. The Blues went from frustrated to frantic in a heartbeat, and there was a real chance the Stars might fall apart.

But Bishop and the penalty kill sucked some steam out of the building with their fourth kill of the game, and then the 6-foot-7 backstop made the Sundqvist save at the 15:45 mark. In all, Bishop made eight saves after the Schwartz goal, lowering his goals against average in the playoffs to 2.13 and raising his save percentage to .936.

As much as those numbers are impressive, his demeanor in coming back from the mistake was even more significant to his teammates.

"Goalies make mistakes, too, just like everybody," said defenseman Esa Lindell. "You've got to get over it and play like it didn't happen. That can affect you, but it didn't affect Bish."

Well, it did affect him. In fact, it maybe made him even tougher.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm5: Bishop stretches to rob Sundqvist

"It was satisfying from the standpoint I made that error and was able to still close it out," Bishop said afterward. "That was the only satisfying thing."

Of course, he was both self-deprecating and dramatic, as goalies will be. It comes with the position. But what's great about Bishop is he's also a reflection of his team. He has pushed hard for consistency, he has bounced back from mistakes, he has become more mentally strong.

The Stars on Friday took some huge hits early, bounced back and scored a goal just 2:42 into the game. Jason Spezza roofed a shot off a nice pass from Tyler Seguin, and some of the vitriol of Blues fans dissipated.

It was a veteran reaction for a team that's still sort of new to the playoffs.

"You want to take away momentum, take the crowd out of the game, and you have to get hit this time of year," Spezza said of the physical first few minutes.

"You've got to get hit to make plays and you have to be OK with it, and you have to skate away. I thought we did a good job."

They also did a good job of winning 50-50 battles, of surviving scrums at the net, of getting the key play when they needed it.

Video: Lindell awarded cowboy hat for winning goal in Game 5

Six minutes into the second period, Alexander Radulov dropped a pass to a trailing Esa Lindell, and the defenseman slipped a backhand shot that deflected off of a Blues defenseman past Jordan Binnington.

It was the first playoff goal for Lindell, and it turned out to be the game-winner. And yes, that's the same Esa Lindell who took an "embellishment" penalty in Game 3 and also allowed his man to go unmarked in scoring the game-winning goal in that contest.

The same Esa Lindell who learned from his mistake and played 27:13 in a Game 4 win and 29:20 on Friday -- both victories.

"We didn't show panic tonight," forward Jason Dickinson said. "We were able to handle their best -- their pressure -- fairly well. They had some pretty good chances still, but all in all we've got Bish back there to shut it down when we need him to."

Because as confusing as the position can be sometimes, it's also the most simple: Stop enough pucks, and you're the hero.

"Bish is phenomenal," said Spezza. "He's been the best goalie in the league all year for a reason, and he's playing that way. We feel calm when he's back there. Even when a little mishap happens, we know we have full confidence and know he's going to be there for us."

Like in Game 6 Sunday afternoon when Dallas has a chance to advance to the next round.

For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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