TAMPA — Anders Lindback insisted nothing will change when he walks into the Tampa Bay Times Forum for tonight's game against the Flyers.
The Lightning goaltender will stick to his usual pregame routine. When the puck drops, he will follow the script of "one puck at a time" and "one game at a time."
"I just try to stay positive and just work hard," Lindback said.
The truth is, though, for Lindback, everything has changed.
With No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop sidelined with what his agent, Allain Roy, said is an elbow injury, Lindback, who played just 21 games as Bishop's backup, suddenly is the man.
He will play the final three regular-season games as Tampa Bay fights for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
And with Montreal being Tampa Bay's first-round opponent, Lindback will have to go save for save with Carey Price, one of the league's best.
Kristers Gudlevskis, up from AHL Syracuse, will be Lindback's backup.
"I'm confident I can play at this level and even raise my game," Lindback said. "I'm putting the most pressure on myself. Every game I play is an opportunity."
The opportunity is here because Bishop, 5:43 into the first period Tuesday against the Maple Leafs, fell awkwardly on an arm after extending to glove a floating puck.
Lindback, who had played just three games since Jan. 13, was outstanding in relief with 25 saves in the 3-0 victory.
But even Lindback acknowledged that was just one game. And his statistics — 6-12-2 with a 3.11 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage — and uneven performances this season put into question whether he can muster the consistent effort called for this time of year.
The joke Wednesday was that the 6-foot-6 Lindback, who played one postseason game with the Predators in 2011, has more NHL postseason experience than the 6-7 Bishop, whose 37 wins this season are fourth in the league and who is in the top 10 in goals-against average and save percentage.
"So, if 'Lindy' starts Game 1," coach Jon Cooper said, "I guess we're starting the veteran guy."
Seriously, though, "I think we're putting way too much focus on who is playing in net," Cooper said, employing the deflection strategy. "If we don't play well as a group ahead of him, it's not going to matter who is in net. It's up to the coaches to prepare, and it's up to the 18 skaters in front of him to play the way we're capable."
Given the high regard in which Lindback is held in the locker room thanks to his work ethic and attitude, "guys are really going to rally around him," defenseman Matt Carle said.
And captain Steven Stamkos said players are "very confident" Lindback can carry the load.
Ultimately, though, Lindback knows the spotlight and pressure are on him.
"It's what I try to prepare for every day," he said. "It's my job to be able to step in and give the team a chance."
Bishop's MRI exam Wednesday showed — "as far as I know," Cooper said — no structural damage.
In that sense, the report was "encouraging," and Cooper did not rule out Bishop playing "at some point" in the first round of the playoffs.
Still, it doesn't seem likely Bishop will be there at the start, and there is no timetable other than he will be re-evaluated in five or six days.
"That will be really telling of where we're at," Cooper said.
Where the team is now is staring at more adversity. But it has proved resilient, having survived 45 games without Stamkos while he was out with a broken leg and the trade of then-captain Marty St. Louis.
"Any time we've faced adversity this year, we've found a way," Stamkos said. "That's kind of been our motto. This will be another challenge for us."
"Another bump in the road," Cooper said. "I just didn't expect we would go through a cobblestone street."
SALO UPDATE: Defenseman Sami Salo (upper body) is questionable for tonight, though Cooper said the injury is not serious.