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Nothing is surprising Bishop and Lundqvist

The Eastern Conference finals have become a goalie duel between Ben Bishop and Henrik Lundqvist. Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. -- The performances from both the Tampa Bay Lightning's Ben Bishop and the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist have been inconsistent during the Eastern Conference finals.

The masked men have also proved their resiliency.

Now that it’s crunch time and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals is at stake, undoubtedly both goaltenders will try to be at their best. Bishop and the Lightning own a 3-2 lead in this best-of-seven series with Game 6 Tuesday (8 p.m. ET) at Amalie Arena.

"Both those guys are quality guys," one NHL goalie coach said. "They’re both veteran guys, and it’s almost like they can hit that switch and have a little extra focus for the next game."

Goalies are a different breed of professional athlete. Their habits, rhythms, idiosyncrasies and personalities are different than most people's. You ask them about pressure, and they’ll hand you a cliché.

Bishop and Lundqvist haven’t showed that the pressure of winning is getting to them. However, we did see a somewhat beaten Lundqvist after he allowed 12 goals in Games 2 and 3, but he bounced back with 38 saves in Game 4.

"It’s a roller coaster of emotions. It goes up and down," Lundqvist said. "You just have to deal with it the best you can, deal with the pressure you put on yourself, expectations you have on you. It just comes down to keeping your focus on what you need to do -- that’s it. Don’t focus on too many other things, especially things you can’t control."

Bishop’s calmness should be bottled and sold over the counter as a sleeping drug.

"You’ve got to treat it like the regular season," he said. "When you play 60-whatever games, you’re going to have some good ones, you’re going to have some bad ones. You’re going to have some unlucky ones, you’re going to have some lucky ones. It’s kind of the same in the playoffs. You can’t put too much emphasis on one game. ... You just can’t look at it in a real short window. You’ve got to look at it big picture, and that’s a big thing. If you treat it like the regular season, where there’s going to be good games and bad games, it’s easier to move on."

What allows two quality goaltenders to remain so calm in a situation such as this?

"It doesn’t get any easier," one NHL goalie coach said. "Certainly, the pressure surrounding the games ramps up as you go through the rounds. In a lot of ways, the game’s almost a little bit easier because everybody is so attentive to blocking shots, picking up your checks, making good, hard plays."

The number of quality chances fall into single digits at this time of the season. Players will sacrifice their bodies to block shots. Tampa recorded a postseason-high 24 blocks in its 2-0 win in Game 5. That certainly helps a goaltender’s ability to remain sharp, but the opposition is trying to limit the netminder’s vision as much as possible with traffic in front of the net.

There’s a lot going on all around, but top-tier goalies make it look easy.

"The biggest thing is try not to change your mental approach. In the playoffs, you’re going to have some ups and downs," Boston Bruins goaltender and 2014 Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask said. "In these playoffs, goalies have had bad games, and you need to bounce back right after, so you just try to stay even-keeled mentally and not let anything bother you, no matter what the situation is."

Rask can appreciate the work of both Lundqvist and Bishop. Rask has been a rookie netminder with no Stanley Cup playoff experience. He has watched as a backup when former teammate Tim Thomas led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup in 2011. Rask then led the Bruins back to the Cup finals in 2013, before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. He has seen the entire spectrum as a goalie and understands how the last two goalies in the East are surviving.

A lot was made of Bishop’s lack of Stanley Cup playoff experience before this postseason. When asked about it recently, he said it didn’t matter to him. After all, he is 28 and not some rookie. Bishop said recently that the only time he has been nervous in the playoffs was the first game against the Detroit Red Wings. Bishop lost that game by one goal. He hasn’t been at his best the entire postseason, but he has gained more and more confidence.

Rask was 22 when the Bruins handed him the starting job during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. He led Boston to a quarterfinals victory over the Buffalo Sabres, but he was hit with a bit of reality in the semifinals, when the Philadelphia Flyers rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Bruins.

"My first playoff experience, I was young," Rask said. "You win a series, and I was really excited about it. You move on, and you feel really good about yourself, and then things change within a series. You adjust, but you need to keep that mental focus. When you don’t have that experience and age under your belt, that’s where age and experience become a factor."

At the other end of the ice, Lundqvist has accomplished almost everything in his professional career, but he has fallen short of the ultimate goal.

Lundqvist is 14-3, with a 1.39 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in his past 17 games in which the Rangers faced elimination. The Lightning realize they will see Lundqvist at his best for however long this series lasts -- and they hope that doesn't include a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

At this point in the Eastern Conference finals, the goalies are getting limited practice reps, but they’re watching plenty of video to figure out where the opposition’s chances are coming from and what areas they are trying to exploit. By Game 6, nothing should surprise Lundqvist and Bishop.

This series will be decided by which goaltender outshines the other.

"It’s been pretty good hockey," Rask said.