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Lightning's Bishop a U.S. Olympic team candidate

TAMPA

Ben Bishop said it has been easy the past few months not to think about his chances of making the U.S. Olympic team. • After all, Bishop, 27, has had enough on his plate establishing himself as the Lightning's No. 1 goalie • But he admits that potentially wearing the red, white and blue in February in Sochi, Russia, likely will be "on my mind quite a bit" next week, when the team will be announced Wednesday at the Winter Classic. • "It'd be a huge honor, something that nobody can take away from you," Bishop said. "It'd be pretty cool to say that you're an Olympian. I'm just trying to play my best right now and make it a hard decision on them." • Bishop has made a strong case for consideration with his play this season. With Steven Stamkos out with a broken leg, suffered Nov. 11 in Boston, Bishop has helped lift the Lightning (23-11-3), winner of five straight, to third place in the Eastern Conference. He is 20-5-2 and ranks among the league leaders in wins (second), goals-against average (1.93, fifth), shutouts (three, tied for first) and save percentage (.935, fifth).

Though Bishop lost his starting job for the U.S. team at the world championships in May and wasn't invited to the U.S. Olympic orientation camp, there typically is an emphasis on who is performing well leading up to the Olympics. Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, who is in charge of the U.S. team, has said Bishop is "absolutely" on his radar.

"You have to put (Bishop) as one of the most valuable players considering the injury to Steven Stamkos," said former Flames general manager Craig Button, an NHL Network analyst. "Everyone thought the Lightning would capsize, but Bishop has been a big reason they've continued to win."

Bishop, who has played just 73 NHL games, said he never has expected to make the U.S. team, but if he did, it would be "super special."

"For me, I've got to play well (with the Lightning) to make that team," Bishop said.

The U.S. team will carry three goalies, with Bishop among six reported finalists, along with the Sabres' Ryan Miller, the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard, the Devils' Cory Schneider, the Kings' Jonathan Quick and the Panthers' Tim Thomas. Miller, Thomas and Quick were on the 2010 team that got the silver medal. Miller was the starter and named the tournament MVP.

"When I narrow it down, after Ryan Miller, there hasn't been a more consistent goaltender that has played (this season) than Bishop," Button said. "If it's about merit and about stepping up and playing and (going to the Olympics) because you performed, then Ben Bishop is the guy."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.

Ben Bishop's competition

Here's a breakdown of the other goalie candidates for the U.S. Olympic team, to be announced Wednesday:

Ryan Miller, Sabres (9-17-0, 2.76 goals-against average, .924 save percentage): Miller, 33, is essentially a lock to make the team. He was named tournament MVP of the 2010 Games for leading the Americans to the silver medal. The 2010 Vezina Trophy (top goalie) winner has played well for the struggling Sabres this season and could be the Olympic starter for the United States again.

Jonathan Quick, Kings (10-5-0, 2.35. .905): Quick, 28 next month, was the third goalie on the 2010 U.S. team and was expected to get a shot again for 2014. But the 2012 playoff MVP and Stanley Cup winner has been out with a strained groin since mid November and isn't expected to return until the first week of January, which puts his Olympic spot in jeopardy.

Tim Thomas, Panthers (9-10-1, 2.75, .909): Thomas, 39 but seemingly ageless, was Miller's backup in 2010. He is resuming his career with the Panthers after taking last season off, and the two-time Vezina Trophy winner and former longtime Bruin has been solid.

Cory Schneider, Devils (4-8-5, 2.20, .910): Schneider, 27, the heir apparent to Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, has split time with the future Hall of Famer this season. He has allowed 17 goals in his past five games.

Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (6-8-7, 2.65, .910): Howard, 29, was thought to be another great candidate, but he struggled in November and now is out with a knee injury. His health also could hurt his chances of making the team.

Lightning's Bishop a U.S. Olympic team candidate 12/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 26, 2013 10:58pm]
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