Robin Lehner delivered for the fans in NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum Wednesday in Game 1 of the Islanders’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the home crowd showered the goalie with their appreciation.
“Lehner! Lehner!’’ they chanted.
“I don’t understand how they can scream for that long, but good for them,’’ Lehner said after the Islanders took the opener of the best-of-seven series, 4-3 in overtime.
Lehner, who got the starting assignment for the Islanders, ahead of goalie partner Thomas Greiss, made 41 saves in his first career playoff start, and was the biggest reason the Islanders were able to make it to the overtime after the Penguins flooded the slot with bodies pumped shots at him all night. He was quick, and he was big, and he was square to the shooter all night.
Lehner no doubt was helped by the fact that the Islanders scored the first goal of the game, which allowed him to relax a little bit. The Islanders actually led three times, but gave up the lead each time, the last when Pittsburgh’s Justin Schultz scored with 1:29 to go and the Penguins’ net empty. Lehner, though, said the Islanders weren’t devastated by allowing the late goal.
“I don’t think there was any panic,’’ he said. “It was 3-2, there was two minutes left, or something, but it was a good play by them. They had a lot of traffic in front all night, they have some big guys there, and they shot it in the right spot. It was 3-3. There was not much to think about. We were calm in [the locker room during intermission], and we knew we were going to win this game.’’
They did when Josh Bailey popped in the rebound of Mathew Barzal’s backhand shot off the post at 4:39 of the overtime.
“We worked really hard,’’ he said. “Everyone gave their best, and that’s why we won. But if we want to win this series, we’ve got to go back to our game.’’
The Islanders, who allowed the fewest goals in the league in the regular season, are not in the business of trading chances with anybody, let alone a team that has the kind of offensive firepower the Penguins do, with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin. But Lehner bailed them out on Wednesday. Malkin got one goal on six shots, and Crosby was held without a point, which Lehner attributed to this being “a weird game.’’
Minutes after the game was over, the goalie was ready to move past Game 1 and start thinking about Game 2 on Friday.
“Let’s enjoy this a little bit today, and tonight, go have a good night’s sleep,’’ he said. “It’s going to be a little bit easier with the two points, and come back tomorrow, look at what we need to do and it’s a new game on Friday. It’s a good start.’’