The theme for Robin Lehner’s season, which was a key part of the Islanders’ season, was perseverance and resilience. Now he and they are going to have to rely on that bedrock more than ever.
“We were the better team today,” Lehner said after a 2-1 loss dropped the Islanders into a 2-0 hole in their second-round series against the Hurricanes. “They got a goal and then they got a good tip. It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get the comeback.”
It is not his fault that the team is winless, or that it failed to hang on to a 1-0 lead Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center. He did admit that he should have gotten a glove or pad or shoulder on the hot shot from Warren Foegele 17 seconds into the third period, but no team can rely on the goalie putting up a shutout for 60 minutes for a second consecutive game.
“It was a good play by him,” Lehner said of Foegele. “Obviously, I want to save it. I should save it. But you know what? Sometimes a goal goes in.”
And when it does, you deal with it. Same thing for when the other side scores again on a deflection 48 seconds later, as former Islander Nino Niederreiter did to make it 2-1.
Lehner knows better than anyone on the team how to deal with situations that don’t seem to be going your way, which is why he is a finalist for the Masterton Trophy. He is possibly the leading contender of the three finalists for the award honoring perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. His inspiring story, dealing with a bipolar condition and addiction, has been the backdrop for the team’s unlikely rise from low expectations to a serious Stanley Cup aspirant.
So he is not worried or panicky about what comes next as the series moves to Raleigh on Wednesday for Game 3. Nor is his team the least concerned about the man who also is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie. Nobody blames a goalie for a deflection, and nobody was griping about Foegele’s shot, either.
“Oh, by no means was that a bad goal,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. “Those things are going to happen. It was certainly not his fault. At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to score some goals for him.”
Said Lehner, “The reality of the story is they scored three goals in two games. We’re down two. Now we’ve got to go to their rink and do the same.”
For the Islanders, the maddening part was that the things they usually do to other teams, the Hurricanes have done to them.
It is the Islanders who have spent the season being so solid on defense that the other side — notably the Penguins in the first round — gets off its game. In these past two games, the Hurricanes have allowed few good chances.
It is the Islanders who have been such a neat story with surprising play by unlikely goalies — Lehner, whom no other team really wanted, and Thomas Greiss, who rebounded extremely well from a down year.
On Sunday, Hurricanes backup goalie Curtis McElhinney came in and shut down the Islanders after starter Petr Mrazek (considered their key player) left with an injury.
You might say that all that went right in the sweep of Pittsburgh has gone wrong so far against Carolina. Lehner would not necessarily agree. “It’s tough to say. I don’t think we won the first round on bounces,” he said. “It’s two-nothing. It’s not four-nothing. We win the next game and all of a sudden everything tightens up again.”
Lehner and the Islanders have a new chance to bounce back, and they need to do it in a hurry. At least they can rely on the fact that bouncing back is what they do best.