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'He's our brick wall': Bishop proving unflappable in postseason

Weeding out distractions in a pressure-packed series hasn't been difficult for the Stars' Vezina Trophy finalist

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Ben Bishop is in an odd place.

He knows it, and doesn't seem that fazed.

Bishop grew up in St. Louis, lives there in the offseason, and has plenty of friends and family tuned into an intense second-round playoff series between the Blues and his Dallas Stars. Bishop was drafted by the Blues back in 2005, maintains a good relationship with a lot of the players, and even works out with them in the summer before heading down to Dallas for training camp.

And yet … the first two games of the series weren't all that weird, he said.

"You approach it the same way as you do any other team," Bishop said Sunday. "I've practiced with them a bit, but practice is so much different than a game, especially a playoff game. You still scout and you still have an understanding of who the shooter is, but I really don't think it's an advantage for them or me."

Video: Bishop breaks down bounce back Game 2

It would have been easy to speculate that maybe Bishop was thinking too much in Game 1 when Robby Fabbri beat him between the pads with an early shot and then Vladimir Tarasenko beat him in a similar place on the power play. But if there was any concern about how Bishop would handle the Blues after a Game 1 loss, he proved in Game 2 that he was on top of things.

The 32-year-old goalie came up with 32 stops and was fantastic in holding onto a one-goal lead in a tense third period.

"We knew Bish would be great," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "He's been great for us all year, and he's Vezina finalist because of it. He's our brick wall back there."

Bishop was second in the NHL in goals against average this season at 1.98 and led the league in save percentage at .934. He is one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, the award given to the best goalie in the league. Through eight playoff games, he has a 2.05 GAA and .938 save percentage.

He's been amazingly consistent.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm2: Bishop dives to knock away loose puck

"He's handled everything very well," said Stars goalie coach Jeff Reese. "It's a very physical series, lots of traffic, not a lot of clean shots, and he's really been good. And as far as the pressure goes, he has a lot of experience with that. He's been in the finals, he's played a lot of playoff games, and he's got a clam demeanor about him. He's in a good place."

At 32, Bishop said he has learned a lot. He had to fight his way up through the minors and earn a regular spot in the NHL through two trades. As the No. 1 goalie with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bishop was able to get to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2016.

With his contract coming up and young Andrei Vasilevskiy pushing from behind, Bishop was moved to the Los Angeles Kings in 2017 and eventually to the Stars, where he signed a six-year contract. Now, he feels he and his teammates are coming together at the right time.

"We've worked hard together and we're playing well together and we just want to keep it going," Bishop said.

And to keep it going, he said they just have to keep doing the same things. As much as he understands the talk about his time in St. Louis and the challenges when he allows a bad goal, he said it's really not that different than going through the same thing in October or February.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm1: Bishop uses mask to deny Perron

"I honestly don't feel any different than I have all year," he said when asked about a 17-game hot streak dating back to the regular season in which he has a .954 save percentage. "I stick to my program, and it's worked. There really hasn't been a time when I've felt more in a zone or not in a zone. I honestly feel pretty much the same all of the time, and I think that's a good thing."

He adds though that he does concentrate on his mental well-being and believes mindset plays a significant role in a goalie's success.

"It's a huge part of the job," he said. "You have to do everything to prepare yourself physically, obviously, but I do think it's one of those positions in sports where there is a lot of mental preparation. It's like being a pitcher in baseball or a kicker in football or a golfer, you have to be focused. I've tried over the years to be more loose, and it hasn't worked for me. I need to be focused."

And you would think that would be toughest in a series like this, one that could be filled with distractions, but Bishop is proving otherwise. He said of the bad goals in Game 1: "I do a pretty good job of not carrying the luggage with me. I've been pulled, I've given up six. It happens. That's the cool thing about playoffs: Every game is a new game and you don't carry on from the last game."

Of course, he is aware the environment will be different Monday at American Airlines Center. After he allowed a goal 1:48 into the third period Saturday, the Blues fans serenaded him with taunts of "Bishhhhhh-opppppp." It was same thing he did as a teenager taunting Ed Belfour and the Stars back in the day.

Video: Heiskanen not slowing down after 90 games this season

After winning Game 2, the chants became a good memory rather than a bad one.

"It's pretty crazy to think you were that kid up there in St. Louis screaming Belfour's name, and now you're on the ice and they're screaming your name," Bishop said with a smile. "You don't think about it during the game. Never in a million years did I think about it as a kid -- that I'd be here playing against the Blues. But it's kinda cool."

So maybe this odd place isn't so odd after all, maybe all of the "distractions" will make it better than ever.

"It's awesome. I love it, it reminds me of college," said Bishop, who played at the University of Maine. "When you play college, you have them all over you all game. That's what's so much fun about the playoffs; the hockey is better, but the crowds and the atmospheres are that much better.

"That's the coolest part about this game, to be able to play in these playoffs and to have the fans be as rowdy as they are, with how emotional the games are. It doesn't even compare to a regular season game."

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.

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