Lindberg taking firm grasp of goaltending reins for UMass as Minutemen head to Frozen Four

 (Melissa Wade=)
Massachusetts freshman Filip Lindberg is 10-3-0 this season with a 1.42 GAA, a .939 save percentage and four shutouts (photo: Melissa Wade).

In the post-game press conference following Massachusetts’ dominating 4-0 win over Notre Dame, four minutes went by before anyone thought to ask a question of goaltender Filip Lindberg, owner of the shutout.

And even then, it was about the team defense in front of him and how it had made his job so easy.

The only other question he faced amounted to little more than, “How did you stay awake out there?”

“No disrespect to Filip, but it wasn’t a tough night for him,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “Usually when you get a shutout, the goalie is the first star of the game and has done quite a bit to keep that shutout.

“But I may have been able to put the pads on tonight and get my first career shutout.”

The previous game in the regional against Harvard, also a 4-0 shutout, saw a brief flurry of offensive counterpunches by the Crimson, but in point of fact, Lindberg would not have been voted first star in that shutout win either. Maybe not even a top three star, as instinctive of a choice as that would have been.

“The team is behind the success,” Lindberg said after the win. “It’s not any individual. I’ve been playing with confidence and I have my team to thank for that.”

Such words are almost always empty platitudes in press conferences, spoken in instinctive deference to teammates in an attempt to share the credit. But based on UMass’s performance in the Northeast Regional, the words rang true.

“The thing I love about our team is that we don’t need our goalies to steal games,” Carvel said. “I don’t know if they have stolen a game this year. They’ve just had to be steady.”

Even so, with shutouts in three of his last four games, Lindberg now ranks tops in the country in goals-against average (1.42) and second in save percentage (.939). While UMass’s fourth-ranked team defense has a lot to do with the freshman’s success, he isn’t exactly the proverbial chopped liver.

He did, however, head into the playoffs second on the Minutemen depth chart to sophomore Matt Murray.

Murray had won his first 11 starts and 15 of his first 16, while Lindberg lost two in the first half and soon was playing only about one of every three or four games.

It was hard to sit a guy who just kept winning and winning. Entering the playoffs, Murray’s record stood at 20-5-0 to Lindberg’s 6-2-0.

In the opening game of the Hockey East playoffs, however, eighth-seeded New Hampshire scored three second-period goals to take a stunning 3-0 lead, prompting Carvel to give Murray the hook and insert Lindberg.

The freshman hasn’t left the UMass nets since.

He backstopped a come-from-behind, double-overtime 5-4 win over UNH in that contest, then tossed a shutout in game two of the best-of-three series, albeit needing to make only 18 saves in that one.

Those two performances earned him the start in the Hockey East semifinal against Boston College. Though the team underwhelmed and lost, he played well, giving up only two goals.

“As a head coach, it takes a lot off your plate when you can just go with the No. 1 guy,” Carvel said. “With Lindberg and Murray, they’re very even goalies. They’re very similar. Every Thursday, I have to gut-wrenchingly tell one of them they aren’t playing.

“All year long, I think we’ve made the right decision on who to play. Murray carried the mail for a good portion of the year, but down the stretch Lindberg has been a little bit better.”

One can assume that on the eve of the Frozen Four, Carvel and his staff won’t be agonizing anymore over the choice of which netminder to start. With UMass two games away from a national championship, it’ll be the guy with shutouts in three of his last four games, including two of them in the regionals.

UMass partisans will be hoping for the same result as the last time that happened. Parker Milner posted back-to-back shutouts for Boston College in the 2012 Northeast Regional, and then held Minnesota and Ferris State to singletons to backstop the Eagles to a national championship.

When he faces Denver in the Frozen Four semifinal game, Lindberg might have to steal the first game a UMass goaltender has stolen this season. Or he might just have to be solid once again while his teammates dominate puck possession.

“The team culture wins for us,” Lindberg said. “You’ve just got to be focused on stopping the next puck. Just keep your head in the game.”

Carvel has no worries that his freshman will be up to the challenge regardless of the game flow against Denver.

“He is the most consistent kid, maybe, on our team in what he brings and does every single day,” Carvel said. “So he can handle it.”