TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
This season marks Ben Bishop’s first foray into playoff action.
Doesn’t seem right, does it?
After being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season, he was injured in one of the Lightning’s final regular season games and was unavailable for the playoffs. Without him, Tampa was promptly swept by the Montreal Canadiens. (It was later disclosed that Bishop suffered a dislocated elbow. Ouch.)
There’s no question Bishop is the go-to guy for Jon Cooper and the Lightning. In the postseason thus far he’s started in all 20 games, amassing a 12-8 record. He has a 2.15 goals-against average and .920 save-percentage. Tampa has played in three overtime games, where Bishop faced a total of 15 shots, and came out victorious in each of them.
It hasn’t been a completely smooth road for Bishop. In Game 4 against Montreal, Bishop allowed 3 goals on 11 shots. In the Eastern Conference Final against New York, Bishop was yanked after giving up 5 goals on 26 shots in 47 minutes of work. Both times Bishop was replaced by Andrei Vasilevskiy who let in a total of 4 goals between both appearances.
This postseason, Bishop has faced the second most shots-against in the league with 525, giving up only 42 goals. He has the great fortune of playing for a team with the second highest blocked-shot total in the playoffs at 295.
To this point, he's 5-5 when playing in the confines of Amalie Arena. Not great, but not terrible. He has been stellar on the road with a 7-3 record; most notably, going 3-1 at Madison Square Garden, including shutouts in Games 5 and 7.
Is Corey Crawford an elite goaltender? This is a question no one can quite agree on.
Has he been a finalist for a Vezina? No. Won any Olympic medals? Nope. Has he led the Blackhawks to at least the Western Conference Final since the lockout? Yes. Won a Stanley Cup? You betcha.
He currently has a 2.56 goals-against average and .919 save-percentage. He’s been in net for four of Chicago’s overtime games; including one that went to three OTs. They lost once in those four times.
So then what’s the big deal with Crawford?
Perhaps it was his shaky start to the playoffs? Crawford started Game 1 against Nashville in Round 1 and in the first period, he allowed 3 goals on 12 shots against. Joel Quenneville saw that as unacceptable and replaced him with Scott Darling. The backup held on to 42 shots as the Blackhawks made the comeback to win in overtime.
Coach Q went back to Crawford for Game 2. He played the entire game, giving up 6 goals in the loss. Darling started and won Games 3 and 4, and lost Game 5. As he had done with Crawford, Quenneville went back to Darling in Game 6. In almost an eerie coincidence, the game went nearly the same way Game 1 went. Darling gave up 3 goals on 12 shots. He was replaced by Crawford, who held on for the comeback win.
From that point on, it was Crawford’s net.
In Round 2, Crawford and the Blackhawks allowed only 7 goals against in the sweep of Minnesota.
The Western Conference Final things were a bit tougher. Crawford was faced occasionally latent, occasionally dangerous offense of the Anaheim Ducks. Even after giving up 3 goals in 37 seconds, Crawford was able to hold strong for the Blackhawks. In addition to Jonathan Toews and the others, Crawford played a huge part in handing the Ducks their first post-season regulation loss, and their first back-to-back losses in the playoffs.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
Crawford’s experience trumps Bishop’s more refined skill.
Plus Crawford has a better team in front of him. Even if Quenneville runs his Top 4 defensemen into the ground, he’s got better two-way forwards that are willing to get in front of the Tampa attack to help out their goaltender.
Should either starting goaltender go down, Scott Darling is a better option for Chicago than Andrei Vasilevskiy is for Tampa.
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