As Shawn Matthias darted through a pair of Lightning defenders, the Florida forward took a pass on his stick and skated in alone for a breakaway on Tampa Bay goaltender Anders Lindback.
A fragile Lightning team was holding onto a one-goal lead late Tuesday when Matthias broke into the Tampa Bay zone. The lead remained intact after Lindback, looking more confident and comfortable than in recent games, came up with the point-blank stop against Matthias.
“I tried to be patient,” Lindback said.
It proved one of those snapshot moments that stand out in the course of a game. Recently, those moments have been for the wrong reasons for Lindback. On Tuesday, it was for the right reason.
“What I liked on that, he wasn’t back in his net, he wasn’t deep in his net and he challenged him,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “Even if (Matthias) had scored, I would have liked the fact that he was challenging him. And when you are scared to lose, you back up.”
The hope is that Lindback’s 37-save performance in Tuesday’s 3-2 win against the Panthers will help him take a step forward and perhaps carry over into today’s home game against the New York Islanders.
“It’s big for me, and that’s what I need to bring to the team every game,” Lindback said. “It’s going to be more of these tight games (down the stretch). It’s my job to step up and give the team a chance to win, so I’m really happy about that.”
After Lindback started the season with solid numbers, his game began to slip in mid-February. The low point came in Pittsburgh on Feb. 24, when he was pulled after allowing three goals on 10 shots, including two soft goals, in the first period.
At that point, coaches gave Lindback a chance to catch his breath. After playing only 38 games in two previous NHL seasons, Lindback started 12 of 16 to start this season. So, Mathieu Garon started the next four games.
In Lindback’s past three starts, however, his game has steadily risen.
He came within six minutes of a shutout in New Jersey on March 5 and allowed two or fewer goals in all three starts, though he might like to have back the two he allowed against Winnipeg on March 7. In the past three starts, Lindback is 2-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.
On Tuesday, Lindback looked more in control of his game, swallowing up pucks instead of giving up rebounds. His glove looked as strong as it has all season. And, more importantly, he came up with saves when the team really needed them.
“That’s his game. There we go, that’s the game he needed, that we needed since the beginning of the year,’’ Boucher said. “He’s had games where he was close, but there was always something missing. (Tuesday) that was his game. He made the right saves in the third period, the key saves that a top goaltender does.”
Though Lindback’s game is far from where he wants it to be, perhaps the signs of turning things around are on the horizon.
“He was phenomenal, a big breakaway save in the third, and hopefully this gets him some confidence, because I know the team definitely has confidence in him and he showed it,” center Steven Stamkos said. “He did a great job of making the first save and not really giving much.”
Perhaps it will be a building block.
“That is going to help him grow, for sure,” Boucher said.