TAMPA — Staring at an open net 180 feet down the ice, Anders Lindback dropped the puck to his stick, turned his hands over and fired a shot toward the opposite goal.
The puck flew through the air, hit the ice and skidded to halt just inside the blue line and well short of the vacated Nashville Predators goal.
The attempt to score by the Tampa Bay Lightning net-minder was about the only thing that did not go his way Thursday in his first start against his former team.
Lindback finished with 28 saves to help lead Tampa Bay to a 4-2 victory against the Predators in front of an announced crowd of 17,254 at the Forum.
“It’s always nice to get a win, and especially in these games against your old team, it’s always a little special,” Lindback said.
His teammates provided some offensive support — the team averaged 1.63 goals per game in Lindback’s previous eight starts this season — as Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Teddy Purcell and Marty St. Louis all scored, with St. Louis notching his 350th as a member of the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has won three consecutive games for the first time since winning four in a row from Nov. 1-9 while improving to 13-3-1 on home ice as the Lightning moved into second place in the Atlantic Division standings, three points behind Boston.
Lindback, acquired from Nashville on June 15, 2012, improved to 3-6-1 this season.
“We knew this was a game he had circled on the calendar, and he played awesome,’’ Killorn said. “We were happy to do that for him.’’
The victory was the feel-good moment of the season for Lindback, whose numbers and record are not indicative of how the 25-year-old has played in his limited starts this season. Lindback has not received the offensive support in front of him — the team has been shut out twice with him in net and been held to one goal on three other occasions — while he’s been the victim of some bad breaks.
“He’s deserved better from us, and for us to get four (goals) for him, and for him to shut the door like he did ... he’s deserved this,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He was on today. He has played extremely well for us, it just that (with Ben) Bishop, it’s been like A and A-plus. Hopefully we can continue to give him some goal support, because he’s played way better than his record.’’
Lindback was also able to play from ahead, as Killorn scored 2:25 into the game, marking the first time Tampa Bay has opened the scoring with Lindback in net since Oct. 27 at Florida. After withstanding a barrage of Nashville shots — which had six in a span of 1:49 after going without a shot on goal for 10 minutes, 47 seconds — St. Louis fired home a power-play goal with 54 seconds left to give Lindback a two-goal lead.
And other than Nashville’s dangerous-looking power play, which accounted for both Predators goals (one technically did not register with the man advantage as the power play expired at the same time the goal was scored), the Lightning were in control of the game and had Nashville back on its heels for good portions of the game, particularly in the third period, in five-on-five play.
“Since I can remember, that’s one of the best games we have played at even strength,’’ said Killorn, who also had an assist on the night. “We didn’t give them too much, we controlled the puck a ton. Just in the third period, the amount we had the puck was huge, it’s tough for them to score, obviously, when they don’t have the puck much and playing defense the whole time.’’
When Nashville did score, the Lightning answered on both occasions to regain their two-goal lead, with Purcell answering 1:51 after a Craig Smith goal at 6:36 of the second period and Panik tipping an Eric Brewer point shot at 13:51, just 49 seconds after Smith’s second goal.
It proved to be the support Lindback needed to cap his night.
“It’s what I’m working for every day, to try to prove myself, and I thought we played a really good game all through it,’’ Lindback said. “And it’s always relieving when they score a couple of early goals. So it feels good.’’