Lindback leads charge as strong netminding emerges at pivotal time
The Tampa Bay Lightning's playoff stock may have plummeted when netminder Ben Bishop grimaced in pain on the ice after he was injured while diving for a puck one week ago. Confidence, however, has continued to rise in the locker room despite losing a major piece of the playoff puzzle for an unknown period of time.
The upward trend began when Anders Lindback proved his statistics from the beginning of the year were a thing of the past.
To make that happen, goaltending coach Frantz Jean and Lindback tweaked his game to a style based more on positioning rather than athleticism, which proved easy for Lindback to do with a reputation known for his hard work.
"We adjusted certain things to make sure he was able to keep the same level of energy and concentration game-in and game-out," Jean said. "Long term it's going to be a big asset for him."
Lindback has since reemerged as a calm and patient force, putting the team in front of him at ease.
"The whole idea behind the changes we made were because we didn't want him to chase the game," Jean said. "We wanted to let the game come to him."
And the game has certainly done just that.
Lindback built off his victory versus the Maple Leafs, his first win since January 11, with two more wins to close out the regular season. He was then named the NHL's First Star of the Week for the period ending on April 13, posting a dazzling 0.67 goals-against average, .975 save percentage and one shutout.
"It's reinforced all the work he's done this year," Jean said. "He's worked extremely hard and well at improving his game and he's being rewarded for it."
Yet Lindback, who believes "it's always nice to get some added encouragement," liked his first-ever star of the week nod, said he and the rest of the Bolts are "focusing on tomorrow."
"That's our mindset. It's a new game and a new series and we're looking to win in four games."
That also meant having backup goalie Kristers Gudlevskis playoff ready. A back-to-back situation amidst Lindback's three wins provided a perfect scenario for Gudlevskis to make his National Hockey League debut.
"We did not want his first game to be a playoff game," head coach Jon Cooper said. "We wanted him to feel the environment and get this out of the way and he was up to the task."
The start in turn created another impressive feat for the Lightning goaltending staff, as Gudlevskis has now appeared and started a game at four different levels (East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League, National Hockey League, Olympics) this year, while also picking up his first career win.
While Bishop's play through 63 games this campaign has helped keep Tampa Bay in the conversation despite losing Steven Stamkos for more than half of the season, it is now Lindback's turn to carry the load as they open the first round of the playoffs Wednesday.
Ironically enough, Lindback does carry the most postseason experience out of the trio of goalies too, appearing in a 13-minute relief effort for Pekka Rinne during the 2011 postseason with the Nashville Predators.
"Just to see what it's all about, how everybody takes it to another level and how committed you need to be," Lindback said. "It was a good experience and it's going to be a whole different level. I need to embrace that."
What started as a year where the biggest question mark surrounding the team was goaltending, the Lightning has delivered depth in that very position with three different goaltenders proving they can man the crease whenever called upon. And as Bishop's status is still up in the air, the Bolts are more than convinced with the next two in line.