Chicago Blackhawks: Experience May be the Difference between the Pipes

By Matt Barbato

Both Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning took similar paths to the Stanley Cup final.

Crawford was deemed as finished after allowing three goals in the first period of Game 1 and six goals in Game 2 of the first round against the Nashville Predators. He was pulled in Game 1 and benched in Games 3, 4 and 5 before re-entering the series midway through the first period in Game 6 and making 13 saves in Chicago’s 4-3 series-clinching win.

Crawford’s playoff numbers have been rather pedestrian. He sports a .916 save percentage with a 2.56 goals against average. Since the Nashville series, Crawford has posted a .929 save percentage and has allowed an average of 2.54 goals per game. Crawford has had a knack for coming up big when his team needed him desperately. He stole Chicago a victory in Game 3 against the Minnesota Wild with a 30-save shutout, gobbled up 60 saves in Game 2 of the Western Conference final and another 47 in Game 4, both Chicago victories.

Crawford hasn’t been a brick wall, but he’s shown up when it matters most.

Bishop has been instrumental in his team’s trip to the final. His .920 save percentage and 2.15 goals against average are not gaudy, but Bishop has been truly clutch. He’s got two Game 7 shutouts under his belt and displayed great resiliency against the New York Rangers in the last round.

The Bolts bailed Bishop out after he allowed five goals on 28 shots in Tampa’s Game 3 win. But, questions arose after he allowed another five goals on only 24 shots in the following contest. Bishop silenced the critics briefly with a 26-save shutout in Game 5, only to raise even more questions after getting yanked out of Game 6 when he allowed five goals on 21 shots.

Bishop was a stone wall in Game 7 and became the first goaltender to record a Game 7 shutout on the road in the conference finals. He stopped all 22 shots he saw and didn’t give the Rangers many opportunities for rebounds.

The matchup in net boils down to Crawford’s experience against Bishop’s size.

Crawford is the goaltender with a ring and that matters immensely at this time of year. He posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.50 goals against average against the Boston Bruins in the 2013 final. Crawford gave up three goals or fewer in every game of that series aside from Game 4, which the Hawks won 6-5.

Crawford’s butterfly style has made him susceptible just above the glove side (his left side). Crawford surrendered 24 goals that were shot above his glove side shoulder during the regular season, according to a graph from Double Blue Sports Analytics. Crawford has also been exposed from strange angles on plays that begin from behind the net. Ryan Kesler’s goal in Game 7 is an example of a play where Crawford didn’t adequately cover the post.

Another thing to watch is Crawford’s extremely bouncy pads. Those pads generate longer rebounds, which sometimes cost him if the puck doesn’t clear away from swarming opponents. If the Lightning can corral some rebounds off Crawford’s pads, they could earn some pretty easy goals.

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At 6-foot-7, Bishop doesn’t give opponents much net to shoot at. His height allows him to position himself aggressively with the assumption that teams will have a hard time finding an area to target. Bishop still can be affected by net presence, as 19 percent of his goals allowed have come off of screens and 21 percent have come from deflections, according to Double Blue Sports Analytics.

However, Bishop can be beaten laterally and is most vulnerable when moving from side to side. The Rangers did a great job of moving the puck around the zone and capitalizing on Bishop’s slow movement across the crease.

Bishop is also suspect on his glove side (left side). Another graph from Double Blue Sports Analytics shows that Bishop allowed 75 goals from his left side (top or bottom) during the regular season.

Bishop also isn’t afraid to get involved in the offense. He has three assists during the playoffs due to his excellent stickhandling skills. Puckhandling is far from Crawford’s strong suit.

In a series that features some of the most talented forwards in the NHL, these goalies will have their work cut out for them. Don’t be surprised to see a couple of 5-4 games during the finals, but also don’t be stunned to see one or both of these goaltenders stand on their heads because Crawford and Bishop are capable of either kind of performance.