BOSTON – Anders Lindback was an utter throwaway when he arrived on the scene last month. He was basically the body the Buffalo Sabres got back for Jhonas Enroth, the backup Lindy Ruff had no use for in Dallas. The guy who sat around and ran the bench door while Michal Neuvirth was hot in the Buffalo goal. The guy who was likely to back up Chad Johnson here after Neuvirth was sent to the New York Islanders at the trade deadline.
But Johnson got hurt in a morning skate in Ottawa the day he was supposed to make his debut and may not play for the Sabres this season. It’s Lindback’s crease now, and he’s making the most of his opportunity.
Lindback’s first win for the Sabres was an out-and-out steal Tuesday night in TD Garden. He made 44 saves through regulation and overtime and blanked the Boston Bruins in a shootout as Buffalo got the only skills competition goal from Tyler Ennis to post a 2-1 victory.
The win snapped Buffalo’s 0-5-2 slide and pulled the Sabres within three points of idle Arizona and Edmonton in the tip-toe act for the bottom three spots in the NHL’s overall standing. Each team has 12 games left.
“We’ve been working so hard,” Lindback said. “Where we are in the standings is a tough situation for everybody to be in. I gotta say, I’m impressed with everybody to keep battling and keep plugging on a day like this. It feels good.”
Lindback is just 1-3-2 but now has a 2.41 goals-against average and a tank-busting .934 save percentage for the Sabres. Incredibly, he’s at .957 the last three games, stopping 110 of 115 shots on goal thrown at him by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals and Bruins. That’s not like dealing with, say, the Oilers, Coyotes or Toronto Maple Leafs.
Playing their third game in four nights, the Sabres had virtually no legs in the first 40 minutes at all, but Lindback kept them afloat. It was just 1-0 thanks to a goal by Boston’s Loui Eriksson at 9:55 of the first period on a bad bounce off the back boards.
“It was almost like the ‘Thrilla in Manilla.’ We just rope-a-doped them,” joked Sabres coach Ted Nolan in a reference to Muhammad Ali’s old boxing techniques. “I think they got tired going in our offensive zone for the whole second period. It seemed like they were in there for 19 minutes. Lindback played great.”
The shot attempts in the game read 95-47. Yes, the Bruins had one goal on 95 attempts. Lindback blocked 44 but his teammates blocked 28 too.
The Sabres got their energy back on Rasmus Ristolainen’s power-play goal at 1:23 of the third period, a floating wrist shot that deflected off defenseman Matt Bartkowski and eluded Bruins backup goaltender Nicklas Svedberg.
It seemed to wake up the Sabres.
“We believed. We kept battling,” Ristolainen said. “We got momentum right away from a big power-play goal, and we kept building from that.”
The 6-foot-6 Lindback stayed strong in his crease. He made seven stops in overtime, including a glove robbery of Chris Kelly with 15 seconds to play. He was ready for this shootout. He stopped Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand and Torey Krug fired wide, leaving Ennis’ first-round goal as the deciding shot.
“I kind of told myself, ‘I’m not losing three shootouts in a row here,’ ” Lindback said. “It felt really good. Ennis made a nice move, and it’s always nice when you have a goal up there.”
Ennis deked Svedberg to the ice and put the puck high, quickly ricocheting in and out of the net before it was ruled a good goal.
“It sounded soft,” Ennis said, meaning he heard the puck strike no iron. “There’s no possible way it couldn’t have gone in if it was that soft.”
This was a game Lindback wasn’t even supposed to start. Nolan pretty much said Monday that Matt Hackett was going to get the call, a shade over 11 months after he was stretchered off the Garden ice with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Buffalo’s second-last game of the season last April.
But Lindback stopped 35 of 38 shots and went 2 for 3 in the shootout in Monday’s 4-3 loss to Washington in First Niagara Center. Nolan and goaltending coach Arturs Irbe decided they wanted to test him in a back-to-back situation, and Lindback came through in fine fashion.
“He’s the one who saw something with this kid,” Nolan said of Irbe. “He worked with him, worked with him. We were thinking about going with Hackett, and he said, ‘Hey let’s put him back in.’ He has a real good feel for goaltenders, and he’s doing a great job.”
“All season I’ve been feeling good but haven’t got it done,” Lindback said. “I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just small things. You need that first save. It puts you in a good spot and right now I’m feeling good.
“It’s where I’ve been aiming to be. You have to be able to give your team a chance to win every night as a starting goalie in this league. It’s not an easy thing. It’s what I’ve been working for. It’s only a couple games here. We still want to keep winning and doing the right things.”