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Bishop, Khudobin seek to block out noise - and as many shots as they can

For the Stars goaltenders, the hope is for a clear mind and a lot of quiet entering the Stanley Cup Qualifiers

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Tabula Rasa -- Blank Slate.

It is the aspiration of Zen Buddhists, psychoanalysts and NHL goalies.

It makes sense, really. Just as great minds throughout time have tried to empty their thoughts and get rid of the clutter, goalies need to be able to find their happy place and focus. It's a common goal in sports.

Pitcher Billy Chapel tried to "Clear the Mechanism" in the movie For Love of the Game. Former Cowboys lineman Blaine Nye joked of Clint Longley after the rookie quarterback engineered a Thanksgiving Day win over Washington in 1974 that it was the "triumph of the uncluttered mind." Golfers do everything they can to get out of their own heads.

So it is with the Stars goalies, who each approach the task in different ways.

Ben Bishop is methodical and experienced and thoughtful. Anton Khudobin acts as if he just doesn't really think about anything. Both seek the same goal.

"Whether it's Game 7 or the first game of the season, I don't treat it any differently," Bishop said. "So that's how I'm looking at it."

Khudobin added that he likes to just "breathe."

Video: Bishop, Lindell give expectations for exhibition game

"The new season, to me, is like you breathe out from the old season and you breathe again freshly, nicely, and you go in with a different mindset," Khudobin said.

But how is that accomplished? It's easy to talk about it, but isn't it difficult to do?

"It's just kind of part of how you play," Bishop said. "As a goalie, you learn to have a pretty short memory. You enjoy the good ones and you forget about the bad ones pretty quickly. You can't do anything about the last goal, so the big thing is prevent the next one, so it's pretty easy once you kind of learn."

Bishop has some injury history in his background, so that has to be in the back of his mind at times. Two years ago, he got hurt down the stretch and the Stars missed the playoffs. Last season, he was healthy and Dallas got to Game 7 of the second round. As the teams try to get revved back up after four months off, injuries are a concern, especially for a 6-foot-7 goalie.

So when Bishop decided to work off ice for a couple of maintenance days last week, it was something that was notable to Stars fans. For Bishop, it was just business as usual.

"We're just trying to manage it a little and make sure we're ready for this run," Bishop said. "It's obviously a different type of scenario right now, and you want to make sure you're as healthy as possible."

Bishop could be challenged for a start in the playoffs and that hasn't happened in a while.

He started all 13 games last season and was the No. 1 goalie in Tampa Bay, but he isn't letting on that any sort of coaching decision could be a distraction. Likewise, Khudobin also is at an important juncture in his career. He's never started a playoff game and he can become an unrestricted free agent when the season is over.

Video: Dallas Stars Highlight Reel

If he gets to play, there could be a lot riding on his performance. And yet he said he really doesn't worry about all of that.

"That's my agent, that's his part," Khudobin said. "Of course, I want to re-sign. Of course, I want to sign a new deal. But right now, we're just playing hockey. If there is any talks, my agent will let me know."

Khudobin, 34, referred to an old contract negotiation in Carolina and said he learned from that experience.

"It was talks and talks and talks and talks. I said to my agent, 'Kent, listen. You know what I want. Talk to them. Let me know what they want. I don't want to go through the whole conversations every day and stuff like that. Because I want to play hockey.'" Khudobin said. "This season, my stats, my records and stuff like that, this is all up to (Stars general manager) Jim Nill. He's going to think what to offer and how to offer.

"So the answer is I'm not thinking about it. I'm just preparing to help my team to win, go farther as possible in playoffs. Either I'm going to play, either I'm not going to play, whatever. And then, whenever if free agency comes, or maybe I'm going to sign an extension here. I don't know. So I just prepare for hockey, preparing for practices right now."

That sounds easy, but it has to be just a little bit distracting. As much as a pitcher has a moment to clear his mind before he throws or a golfer can focus in utter silence before he swings, a goalie is right in the middle of it. He has to find his quiet spot amidst bodies and sticks and snow in his face. He has to find a way to calm the chaos.

And these two do.

Stars interim coach Rick Bowness has worked with Bishop for several seasons, as he was an assistant when Bishop was the No. 1 goalie with Tampa Bay. Bowness said he has seen Bishop turn on his laser focus on several occasions, and cited two games at Madison Square Garden where Bishop won 2-0 and helped push the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.

Video: Bowness on what practices are like in Edmonton bubble

"I've just seen him come through in the toughest times, so I know what he can do," Bowness said. "When he went into Madison Square Garden and had shutouts in Game 5 and Game 7, that was just an incredible performance."

Now, Bishop allowed five goals on 26 shots and was pulled at home in Game 6 of that series, so maybe there is something to this short memory thing.

"It's something you just get better at the longer you play, and hopefully there's a lot less of the ones you have to forget," he said with a smile.

If you watch enough of these practices, it's funny to note how quickly emotions swing. A team can make six great passes, get a beautiful shot on net, and then pounce on a rebound chance -- and if a goalie stops it all, there is quiet.

Then again, a team can fumble several chances, get a wonky shot on net, and if it somehow gets past the netminder, there is loud rejoicing.

It's a reminder just how important one guy is.

For the Stars, the hope is for a clear mind and a lot of quiet.

 

Exhibition: Stars vs. Predators

Thursday, 3 p.m. CT

Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Alberta

TV: FOX Sports Southwest, NHL Network

Radio: None

Photo credit: Jeff Toates / Dallas Stars

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 DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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