On days when things weren't going so well at the rink, Anders Lindback made sure he carved out some quiet time at home to read. The Lightning goaltender said he has a "nice collection" of books and just finished Lone Survivor, about a Navy SEAL who was the only member of his squad to survive a mission in Afghanistan. When not reading, Lindback might strum a little guitar or go fishing. The idea was to make sure his job — and lack of success for much of the season — did not overwhelm him and stayed at the rink. "That's only going to take you down more," Lindback said of constantly worrying. "It's hard to be all emotional during a long stretch of the season. Better — even though it's hard sometimes — to stay in the middle." That is why Lindback speaks mildly about his recent success and how it could not have come at a better time. Because if No. 1 Ben Bishop, out three games with a left elbow injury, is not ready, Lindback will backstop Tampa Bay's first-round playoff series against the Canadiens that begins tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. "When you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it," he said. "But it's one thing to play a couple of good games. It's another to have a season like Ben's. That's really the way I want to get to one day."
Lindback, 25, was 5-12-2 in 19 games when he took over for Bishop, the Vezina Trophy candidate who went down in the first period April 8 against Toronto.
Since then, the 6-foot-6 Swede is 3-0-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average, a .975 save percentage and saves on 77 of 79 shots. His 18-save shutout in Sunday's 1-0 shootout win over the Capitals in the regular-season finale gave the Lightning home-ice advantage against Montreal.
It is a well-deserved payoff for Lindback, said his teammates, who never saw his work ethic drop or his attitude waver.
Almost always one of the first players on the ice at practice, and many times one of the last off it while working with the team's developing youngsters, Lindback is a model of professionalism.
"Just a great guy and works his tail off," defenseman Matt Carle said.
Lindback, in the last year of his contract and his future uncertain, said he never lost confidence, even through a Jan. 12-April 7 streak in which, because of a sprained ankle and Bishop's hot hand, he played four NHL games and went 0-3-1.
Improvement has come with a quieter game, one in which Lindback doesn't make the first move when shooters challenge him. That, in turn, helps seal the holes that can develop between legs and under arms when he moves.
"Just way more patient," Lindback said. "I feel like I'm more consistent in everything I do out there. You just keep pushing. It's time to take it to another level."
"You just have a smile on your face for him," captain Steven Stamkos said. "We can't stress how hard he works in practice, the great teammate he is, always smiling, not only getting himself better but challenging other players by staying out there longer and making them better. He deserves everything he's getting."
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Lindback will need all he can muster to match Montreal's Carey Price, another Vezina candidate with 34 wins, a 2.32 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage that tied for third in the league.
For Lindback, though, the challenge is not so much the opponent but maintaining his level of performance.
During a recent morning skate in Buffalo, Lindback, using his goalie stick, took baseball swings at pucks shot and bounced at him from across the rink by defenseman Radko Gudas.
"Just playing around with the puck," Lindback said. "There are going to be situations where the puck bounces. It's not a huge part of it, but it's how I stay ready and have fun at practice."
"You cheer for guys like 'Lindy,' " coach Jon Cooper said. "Ben Bishop played so well, nobody was pushing him aside. Lindy just kept working."
And reading, and strumming the guitar.
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