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Anders Lindback is getting another shot to finally live up to his potential

With Mike Smith nursing a long-term injury, the net in Arizona belongs to Anders Lindback for now. Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A door like this opens occasionally for a goaltender.

A door into a world of redemption and respect and maybe, just maybe, a future. And It's a door that, despite all that promise, can slam closed just as emphatically, and permanently.

Anders Lindback of the Arizona Coyotes is confronting just such a door.

Starting Thursday night at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, it's now Lindback's show in Arizona.

Starter Mike Smith is out two months or more with a core body injury that required surgery. There is no obvious prospect lurking in the minors to step into the limelight. Only Lindback, the 27-year-old journeyman who has faced this door before in his career and never been able to step through it.

What is riding on Lindback's performance? Nothing less than the Coyotes' season. On a personal level, maybe everything.

"It's huge for him," said former NHL netminder Kevin Weekes, now a national broadcast analyst. "Huge for the 'Yotes. Pacific is wide open."

Indeed, a Coyotes team predicted by many to finish at the very bottom of the NHL standings approaches the holiday break in third place in the Pacific Division, a point out of second but just three points out of last place.

If Lindback can hold the fort, the Coyotes' surprise season will continue into the new year and who knows how far beyond. If he cannot, many, including Weekes, believe this might be his last chance at proving he is an NHL netminder.

Weekes does believe there have been positive adjustments to Lindback's game, saying he believes the 6-foot-6 Lindback is playing "bigger."

"Less holes through the body," he said. "And to be fair, more comfortable with how he needs to play to be successful at the NHL level."

Lindback seemingly resurrected his career late last season when he was dealt from the Dallas Stars to the Buffalo Sabres, where he went a surprising 4-8-2 with a .926 save percentage for the league-worst Sabres.

But Lindback acknowledged this dynamic is different.

"Last year I think I proved to myself and everybody else that I can play a lot of games and I can perform and obviously that's nice, but this is a different situation," he said.

If it seems human nature to look at this situation as a kind of make-or-break moment, Lindback will do all he can to ignore such instincts and trust his goaltending instincts instead.

"That's one thing that I learned from being a backup," the native of Gavle, Sweden, said. "It's been one of my issues the last couple of years. When I played every second week, every time I come in I've been feeling like I have to do so much that I almost over-move, then overexpose myself instead of just trusting the way you always practice, which I've found easier to do when you play a lot because you don't have that tension ... that even if this game doesn't going to the way I think, there's probably going to be another one, another chance."

Lindback broke into the NHL with the Nashville Predators, who drafted him 207th overall in 2008, and there were hopes he might follow in the footsteps of another tall, elite netminder in Nashville, Pekka Rinne. Tampa hoped so too, when the Lightning sent a package that included two second-round picks to the Predators for Lindback.

He struggled with the Lightning, going 18-22-3, and then could not pick up the slack in Dallas when Kari Lehtonen struggled, Lindback going 2-8 with an .875 save percentage before his stint in Buffalo.

But he has refined his game under goaltending coach Jon Elkin.

"Being able to move more efficiently around the net and under control," Elkin said, referring to the refinements made to Lindback's game. "So control and speed, and we've done some things with his bio mechanics with his stance mechanics to facilitate that."

Head coach Dave Tippett knows all this -- the recent changes, the snippets of strong play this season and the more distant past failures -- and is candid about his expectations.

"He'll play as many [games] as he dictates," said Tippet, a former Jack Adams winner.

"If he plays well, we're going to play him. If we need to put somebody else in because he's tired, then we'll put somebody else in. If we need to put somebody else in because he doesn't play well, then we'll put somebody else in. But he's the guy right now. We're going to see if he can do it."

There is skepticism, certainly.

Lindback is 4-5-1 with a .900 save percentage this season. He'll have to be better than that starting Thursday night.

Longtime NHL netminder Martin Biron, now an analyst in both Canada and the United States, saw Lindback play in Buffalo last season and again during a recent East Coast trip by the Coyotes, and echoed Weekes' thoughts that Lindback looks different in goal -- in a positive way.

"He's so big but used to play very small," Biron said. "To me, the biggest test for him won't be playing well and making 40 saves in a 4-2 loss, but finding ways to win games 3-2 with making 25 saves.

"That's how you find out if that goalie can win games. Unfortunately, I'm very skeptical that will happen. Nonetheless, it's a big opportunity for him and probably the last one he gets if he can't play well."

And so Lindback is once again on the threshold. Others have passed through such openings and seized the moment and never looked back.

Tim Thomas. Devan Dubnyk. Is Lindback next?

"For sure, I feel ready," he said. "I feel like I've been preparing and I've been working hard for this. But then games have to show. But obviously I'm really confident and I'm looking forward to it. Every game this season pretty much I've been feeling good and I've been having fun out there. I'm just excited."