MONTREAL — For a few dicey moments midway through Thursday’s series opener, Ottawa Senators backup goaltender Robin Lehner thought he was going to be thrown into the fire of his first NHL playoff series.
No. 1 netminder Craig Anderson went down after taking a booming Rene Bourque slapshot off the mask, a shot so hard it actually knocked out of one of Anderson’s teeth and chipped another.
At that point, the game was deadlocked 1-1, the Senators were under siege, facing shot after shot after shot and the Canadiens were in the early stages of their five-minute major power play following Eric Gryba’s hit on Lars Eller.
Pressure? You want pressure?
Ultimately, Anderson was fine and Lehner stayed on the bench, with the best seat in the house to watch his goaltending partner steal the opening game for the Senators. Lehner says that Anderson has proven yet again that he’s the best goalie in the NHL.
“Sometimes for a goalie, at least for myself, playing a team that just shoots a lot of pucks at you, it builds your confidence and you start seeing the shot clock going up and it takes some pressure off,” Lehner said after taking shots during the club’s optional practice Friday morning. “When you know your save percentage is like about (. 950), you start letting loose. It’s like a player who goes in and scores on his first shift, he starts playing a little looser and maybe he scores one or two more.”
Lehner had high praise for the “fantastic” work of Anderson and the club’s penalty killers, allowing the Senators to rally. “When we stepped up and scored three goals in the third period, it was pretty sick.”
At the same time, he felt a touch of sympathy for Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who was hearing the boo birds from the Bell Centre crowd for allowing a couple of weak goals. Lehner says Price “is one of the best goalies in the league” but he says it’s not easy for any goaltender to deal with the home crowd working against him..
“I’ve been in that situation Price was in, maybe scale it down 100 times with me being in Binghamton (of the American Hockey League). You hear the fans here applauding him on a dump-in on him. And they’re half booing him. It’s not a good feeling to have, but he’s strong mentally.”
Lehner, however, says that’s the price you pay — pun intended — for tending goal north of the border.
“Any Canadian team, it’s hard for a goalie to play in,” he says. “It’s the same in our building. Craig has come in and stabilized the spot a lot, but we’ve seen it before. You guys (media) are tough on goalies if we are not up to par. That’s the business and you’ve got to learn to play with it, learn to ignore you guys.”
THE NON-WALRUS QUOTES OF THE DAY
Senators defenceman Marc Methot on Anderson’s new gap-toothed smile: “He’s an animal out there. He looks like me now, which is good.” Senators centre J-G Pageau on whether he’s pinching himself to make sure he’s not dreaming about his rapid rise up the roster: “Sometimes, I have to. Everything’s going pretty well.” Cory Conacher on going to the net and taking sticks to the face in the process: “I’m used to that stuff and it’s only going to increase from here. Guys tend to get away with a few more things (in the playoffs). You have to show you’re not injured and battle back, but don’t do anything stupid.”
HERE COME THE KIDS
A year ago at this time, Senators rookie Mika Zibanejad and Patrick Wiercioch were among the players called up from Binghamton to at least get a look at the NHL playoffs. Now that Binghamton has been eliminated from the AHL playoffs, expect a new crew of prospects to be called up to catch a glimpse of the big-league post season.