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One of NHL's all-time best believes Lightning's Bishop is among today's elite goalies

Ben Bishop is on pace for his third consecutive 30-plus win season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Ben Bishop is on pace for his third consecutive 30-plus win season. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Jan. 30, 2016

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop grew up watching Marty Brodeur, marveling at how well the future Hall of Fame goalie handled the puck like a third defenseman.

Bishop, 29, would be in net in his driveway using a regular stick instead of a goalie's paddle, shooting pucks.

"I definitely took a couple things from (Brodeur)," Bishop said.

Last Saturday in Sunrise, it was Brodeur who was the one impressed, witnessing Bishop's playmaking skills outside the crease against the Panthers. Those skills should make Bishop a dangerous weapon in his first All-Star Game on Sunday, especially with the new 3-on-3 format.

"He's a fun goalie to watch," said Brodeur, now the Blues' assistant general manager after retiring a year ago. "I'm always a big fan of the goalie that is really active playing the puck and making plays."

That's high praise coming from Brodeur, 43, a four-time Vezina Trophy winner as the league's top goalie and a three-time Stanley Cup champion, who is considered one of the greatest goalies of all time. He was also one of the best puckhandlers in his 22-season career, so much so that when the league instituted the trapezoid area behind the net in 2005 to contain goaltenders, many dubbed it "The Brodeur Rule."

Brodeur said he believes Bishop should be mentioned among the current elite goaltenders, including the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, the Canadiens' Carey Price and the Kings' Jonathan Quick.

"He's been around for a long time now," Brodeur said of Bishop. "I think you need to play on good teams to be recognized as one of the good goalies, and in Tampa Bay, they're building the continuity of success year in and year out, and he's part of it."

Bishop is a big part of why the Lightning is even in a playoff position at the All-Star break. As the Lightning deals with puzzling scoring struggles, Bishop always gives it a chance to win. He is second in the league with a 2.02 goals-against average, having allowed two goals or fewer in 27 of his 37 games.

Teammates call him their rock and MVP. Bishop has developed into a more vocal leader, coach Jon Cooper saying the 6-foot-7 goalie is the first to come to the bench in tough moments and say, "I've got this."

Unlike Brodeur, who played 21 of his 22 seasons in New Jersey, Bishop is on his third NHL team. He was drafted by his hometown Blues in 2005, then traded twice, to Ottawa in 2012 and to Tampa Bay in 2013. That Bishop took the long way to being an NHL regular — including 183 AHL games — makes this All-Star selection "even more rewarding," he said.

"It shows you put in a lot of work to get where you are," Bishop said. "Sometimes you go that way. Some guys come straight here. Everyone has a different road. You just try to make the most of it. I've had a lot of fun along the way. A lot of people helped me."

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Brodeur was a No. 1 goalie almost from the start of his NHL career, winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 1994. Bishop didn't get his chance until beating out Anders Lindback with the Lightning in the 2013-14 season, and he hasn't let it go since.

"When I had the opportunity to compete with 'Lindy' a couple years ago, you really didn't want to let it slip away because you know how rare of an opportunity it is to get a chance to play in this league," Bishop said. "I tried to make the most of it.

"I really didn't have the mind-set of trying to come in and be No. 1. I just wanted to go out there and play well. That was just a maturity thing of having a couple opportunities to play in the NHL with different teams. Don't try to come in and do too much, just come in and do your job and let things take care of themselves."

Bishop is on pace for his third consecutive 30-plus-win season, but it's the playoffs where goalies' legacies are created, Brodeur said. And Bishop delivered in his first shot last season, racking up two Game 7 shutouts in a stellar postseason as the Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup final.

"It's imperative (to be good in the playoffs)," Brodeur said. "It's not easy to be good during the regular season, but you get recognized for what you do in the playoffs. That's just the mind-set people have. There are things you do, shutouts that you accomplish in certain games, in Game 7s, or you get the experience.

"Goalies have a lot to do about the team, because if the team is not good, you can be really good but never get that recognition. But it's important that playoff hockey is part of your resume if you want to be one of the elite goalies."

Bishop said he has reaped some benefits of the Lightning growing and playing better the past few years. And he believes he benefited from some luck in the postseason to get his big-game reputation.

"You look, we were down 3-2 (in last year's Detroit series) in the first round," Bishop said. "If you lose, people might be saying otherwise."

Bishop learned how to play more relaxed as the playoffs wore on, that "it's not life or death." Brodeur can sense that poise in observing Bishop play.

"I like his patience," Brodeur said. "And I like a lot of his communication skills. You can tell he's active, he's aware of what's going on. You can see with his hand gestures that he's positioning guys. That means he's engaged as a goalie, not just looking at the puck. It makes your job a lot easier to read the play."

Bishop said he picked up that part of his game from veteran defensemen Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman with the Blues. They harped on the goalies to be vocal, and Bishop noticed how that made the game easier for everyone.

And Bishop's hometown has taken notice of his rise.

"When we're in St. Louis," Brodeur said, "a lot of people talk about him."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.


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