Lindback bests friend Markstrom in showdown

SUNRISE, Fla. — This was the game Anders Lindback and Jacob Markstrom mimicked during their street hockey games in Sweden.

And like the typical contest held in front of their childhood homes, someone walked away with bragging rights.

Tuesday night was Lindback’s turn, only the stakes were higher, as he bested Markstrom in their first meeting on NHL ice.

Lindback registered 37 saves and earned third-star honors as the Tampa Bay Lightning held on for a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. He preserved the win with a big save on the Panthers’ Shawn Matthias with 3:40 to play, stopping the forward on a breakaway.

At the other end of the ice, Markstrom struggled in the first period, allowing two goals on three shots. He gave up a total of three on 13 Tampa Bay shots.

“It’s always fun,” Lindback said of the win. “It was a tough game for him. He made two good plays in the beginning. I didn’t think he really had a chance on those.”

But there was still a touch of sympathy for Markstrom, his teammate for many years in Sweden who was a voice of encouragement in tough times.

“I know how hard it is standing there, getting no shots and a chance to get into the game,” Lindback said.

The careers of Lindback and Markstrom have been lockstep. They were drafted in 2008, Markstrom 31st overall by Florida, Lindback 207th by the Nashville Predators. They made their professional debut in Sweden that same year for Brynas IF. They also wore the uniform of the Tre Kronor as teammates at the 2010 IIHF World Championship.

Now they’re honing their games at opposite ends of the state, trying to meet high expectations as each franchise’s goaltender of the future.

When Lindback and Markstrom stand at opposite ends of the ice, it’s like kings on a chessboard. With Lindback and Markstrom both standing at 6-foot-6, the two are among the tallest goaltenders in the league.

Neither can explain the anomaly, but it is part of the reason the Lightning and Panthers love their respective Swedes. With each taking up so much space in the crease, opponents have little net to shoot at.

“Maybe [it is] something from the little spring that goes through our little neighborhood there,” Lindback said.

Markstrom concurred.

“Everybody seems to be tall,” he said.

Gavle, a city of nearly 90,000 about an hour-and-a-half north of Stockholm, is one of the oldest cities in the Swedish Northern Lands. It has a pretty good hockey lineage, too.

The city is home to the Brynas IF, the current Elitserien champion. The club’s six titles are the second-most among its opponents and it has turned out top talent such as hockey greats Borje Salming and Mats Naslund, four-time Stanley Cup winner Stefan Persson and current NHL All-Star Nicklas Backstrom.

“Obviously Brynas been a huge asset to the town,” Markstom said.

Especially for Markstrom and Lindback. Idolizing former NHL goalie Johan Holmqvist, who backstopped Brynas to a championship in 1999, the kids opted to give up “skating out” in order to spend more time improving their game in the crease with the club’s junior franchise.

Both made their professional debut in 2008-09, splitting starting duties with Brynas’ senior-level club. They guided the franchise to a seventh-place finish that season as rookies, but they were ousted by eventual champion Farjestads BK in the first round of the postseason.

“It was really good to talk about situations,” Markstrom said. “It was good to talk games through. When you had a bad game, we’d just push each other.”

“We’ve been, along the way, helping out each other,” Lindback said. “We always competed against each other when we’d practice, so he was a good guy to have there. On the other side we always fought to play. That’s been a good thing coming up, too. We hold each other up to get better.”

After Markstrom emerged as the Brynas’ starter, Lindback to signed with Timra IK. The following season, Markstrom had the better record against his friend, with Brynas posting a 2-0-3 against Lindback’s Red Eagles.

The next — and last time since Tuesday night — they faced off was during a rookie camp tournament. Lindback skated off with a win for Nashville.

But Tuesday, this one counted at an even higher level.

Lindback and Markstrom have not had much time keep in touch this season. Wheras the friends might have met up for a meal or to hang out when in each other’s town, the shortened season hasn’t allowed for much time to catch up away from the rink.

“We talk now and then,” Lindback said. “We get a good bunch of hockey anyway, so it’s more off-ice stuff and everything around it. We live in the same city in the summer, so we see each other a lot.”

If the Lightning’s and Panthers’ plans pan out as they hope, the friends will be seeing a good deal of each other in the Sunshine State, too.