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Backup steps up: Anderson's 1-0 shutouts keeping Panthers in playoff race

SUNRISE, Fla. - Nothing is getting past Craig Anderson, except perhaps the significance of what he's doing.

Who would have thought a 26-year-old career backup goaltender in the NHL would do things never before seen in the history of the game, like put together two straight 1-0 road victories and stop more shots than any goalie in consecutive shutouts? Go ahead, admit it. He's not insulted.

Fact is, even he never saw this coming.

"It's history in the making," Anderson said.

Or rather, it's him making history. Anderson has faced 93 shots over the past two games and stopped every one, leading the Panthers to 1-0 wins against the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins to help keep Florida's fledgling playoff hopes alive.

Not bad for a guy who, until this week, had 16 NHL appearances since the start of last season.

"He can't be beat right now," said Panthers winger Nathan Horton, who scored the game-winner in overtime at Boston on Tuesday.

Anderson will likely be in net again Thursday night, when Florida - which is five points out of first place in the Southeast Division - opens a seven-game homestand against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Who would have ever thought, with all the great goalies that have ever played this game and will play this game, that I'd be the guy you'd be talking to right now about this? It's definitely an honour," Anderson said. "I'm glad to be a part of it."

Anderson stopped 53 shots against the Islanders on Sunday, 40 more against the Bruins on Tuesday. His personal roll goes even deeper than that: It's been 147 minutes 46 seconds since Philadelphia's Daniel Briere scored on Feb. 23 against Anderson, who has stopped 105 consecutive shots.

Still, the man who's spent the season behind Tomas Vokoun in the Panthers' goalie rotation will take very little, if any, of the credit.

"The guys are playing well in front of me and I'm reaping the benefits of good overall team effort," Anderson said.

Maybe Anderson's most impressive feat of the past week was his second-period showing against the Islanders, when he stopped 29 shots.

Allan Bester knows how Anderson felt that night.

Bester is the only goalie in the past half-century to stop more shots in a shutout period. Playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bester made 32 saves in a period against the Hartford Whalers 24 years ago.

"It was quite tiring, definitely," Bester said. "It was just a matter of trying to survive."

Bester retired from hockey years ago and now lives in Florida, working for the Marriott hotel chain. But he didn't know much about Anderson, perhaps with good reason, since the Panthers' backup had 16 wins in his first 72 NHL appearances.

But a pair of 1-0 shutouts, that brings serious notoriety.

"That's awesome," Bester said. "It's great that he gets a chance. Whenever you're not the No. 1 guy, you try to take advantage of the situation that you're in. And it's great that he can take advantage of an opportunity like that."

Anderson is giving the Panthers a huge boost, on the ice and off.

Florida has endured difficult times of late, blowing several third-period leads and reeling from the scary loss of forward Richard Zednik, whose season ended in Buffalo last month when Panthers captain Olli Jokinen fell awkwardly and slashed his teammate's neck with his skate.

Zednik's recovery is going remarkably well, and the Panthers are suddenly back in a playoff chase.

"Hockey, all professional sports, is all about peaks and valleys," Anderson said. "The great teams find a way to minimize the valleys and they ride the peaks as long as they can. We've definitely had some emotional roller-coasters. But some of our younger players are rising to the occasion."

None more so than Anderson himself.

He tends to give souvenirs from some of his better games to hockey-crazed friends, like pucks and signed sticks. The momentos from this week, though, he's not giving any of those up.

"It's a lot of fun right now," Anderson said. "And hopefully we can keep it going."


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