TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning are rallying around goaltender Anders Lindback. Sometimes, literally.
In his first start since starter Ben Bishop went down to injury, Lindback stopped 34 shots to help lead the Lightning to a 4-2 victory against Philadelphia in front of an announced sell-out crowd of 19,204 at The Forum and complete a season sweep of the Flyers.
Tyler Johnson and Steven Stamkos each had a goal and an assist while Richard Panik and Eric Brewer also scored for Tampa Bay.
The Lightning moved to within one point of Montreal for second place in the Atlantic Division and home ice advantage in the first round playoff matchup with the Canadiens. Tampa Bay has control of its own destiny for home ice with a game in hand on Montreal heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
“To get these (past) two wins and have the ability to get home ice, that’s what you want, you want to play meaningful games down the stretch,’’ Stamkos said. “We are proud to get into the playoffs but it would be icing on the cake to get home ice. It’s in our hands and we have to take advantage of that.’’
Tampa Bay has done that by throwing support behind Lindback, who has endured his share of ups and downs this season. But since Bishop left Tuesday’s game early in the first period, Lindback has been strong in his crease with his teammates doing everything possible to help him out.
That included during a scramble in the Lightning end midway through the third period when Lindback was down on the ice with the puck loose. But all five Tampa Bay defenders were in the crease, and defenseman Radko Gudas came up with a save on Adam Hall’s shot into what looked like a vacated net at 11:17 of the third period that kept the Lightning in front 3-1.
“Did he save that with his beard?’’ Johnson joked of Gudas’ stop. “But that’s just the dedication that you need. That will take you a long way in the playoffs with plays like that.’’
Getting the type of play from Lindback that he’s displayed in the past two games will help as well.
Just as he did in stopping all 25 shots in relief on Tuesday, Lindback looked calm and confident against the Flyers and serving as the last line of defense on the few occasions the Lightning defense broke down in front of him. Trying to maintain that calm style in net has been an area Lindback has focused on during the long stretches of games in which he did not play.
“A couple of good games here help out and with every shot I get I get more comfortable,’’ said Lindback, who has three of his seven victories this season against the Flyers. “I think when you are struggling as a goaltender, at least for me, I tried to overdo things and work too hard on some pucks instead of letting the game come to me. I think I’ve been better at that lately.’’
Johnson provided a lift for Lindback early in the game, one-timing a Stamkos pass at 2:00 of the first period for his 24th goal of the season, setting a franchise single-season rookie record. Wayne Simmonds would score a power play goal with 1:21 left in the second period to tie the game and snap Lindback’s shutout streak at 92 minutes, 56 seconds.
But a backhand goal by Panik at 4:33 and Brewer’s second of the season at 9:43 provided a two-goal cushion for Tampa Bay, which overcame an own goal by Ondrej Palat before bouncing back with Stamkos’ 25th of the season coming on the power play at 14:14 to offer the offensive support for Lindback.
“I really liked our game tonight and it started in the back end with Lindy and he did everything we expected him to do,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “He has learned to turn the page . . . you can look at this situation (injury to Bishop) and say is it tough for him, but I look at it as a great opportunity for him. And he is seizing the moment.’’