After stopping 27 of 28 shots on Sunday night to help the Vegas Golden Knights even their Stanley Cup playoffs semifinal series with Montreal after a 2-1 overtime victory, goaltender Robin Lehner had a simple message: Keep those mean tweets coming.
Lehner, who allowed seven goals in his only other playoff start this season at Colorado, was a surprise starter for the Golden Knights in place of popular Vezina finalist Marc-Andre Fleury and made head coach Peter DeBoer’s gamble pay off with a brilliant performance.
And although DeBoer does not name his starter before games, it would be surprising not to see Lehner back in net for Tuesday’s Game 5 at Las Vegas.
Vegas looked like it was on the verge of going down 3-1 in the series, trailing 1-0 in the third period Sunday when rookie star Cole Caufield broke in on a breakaway. But Lehner, under siege for most of the game, blocked Caufield’s attempt to fire the puck between his pads.
A few minutes later, defenseman Brayden McNabb tied the game, and the Golden Knights won it on Nicolas Roy’s rebound of his own shot at 1:18 of overtime after collecting Max Pacioretty’s shot attempt.
Lehner said he arrived for the game four hours early and spent half of that time scrolling through his Twitter feed for motivation.
“I sat for two hours and watched you guys talk (crap) on me on Twitter, you know, get me motivated,” Lehner said. “It was great to see what you guys had to say.
“I’ve been putting up some pretty good numbers and people act like that I’m not very good, especially in our own town. But you know, I have a lot (of support) from the team, my teammates and my coaches.”
Montreal assistant Luke Richardson, who took over head coaching duties after Dominique Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 prior to Game 3, said he was not surprised by Lehner’s performance. Richardson coached Lehner for two seasons with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators.
“I know he’s a competitor and he’s a big guy in there and he takes up a lot of room,” Richardson said. “So there’s not a lot of net to look at. I thought he did a tremendous job for them to give them some life and stability … not that they didn’t have it before. But sometimes you just need to make a change to shake things up and he definitely rose to the occasion.”
Vegas, a heavy favorite before the series began, regained home-ice advantage with Sunday’s win heading into Game 5.
“It’s a huge swing game but it’s only a swing game if you take advantage of it,” DeBoer said.
Montreal had won two in a row and was 4-0 in overtime playoff games before Sunday’s loss. The Canadiens dominated the action for the majority of the contest but could manage just the one goal on Lehner.
“We’re OK,” Richardson said. “We’re all right here. I know it sucks as a player to put that much effort in and you come out on the losing end in overtime.
“But you have to park it and we’ll look at a few things – and mostly good things – that we did and we’ll try and duplicate that. We carried the play quite a bit and we want to do that again in Game 5.”
–Field Level Media