Robin Lehner is used to being the middle-man in the goalie world.
Whether it’s splitting reps with Thomas Greiss on Long Island or backing up Corey Crawford in Chicago, Lehner’s used to it. Now with Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas, it’s reached its apex even with recent events over the weekend.
Lehner tuned out the outside noise and responded with a 26-save shutout, his first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Golden Knights cruised to a 5-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of their second-round series.
“I thought we played a hell of a game,” Lehner said. “It was nice to come out strong and start the series strong.”
This was the first time the Golden Knights played since Marc-Andre Fleury’s longtime agent, Allan Walsh, tweeted a photo Saturday of his client being stabbed in the back with a sword, coach Peter DeBoer’s name engraved on the blade.
Fleury, the starter for the better part of three years in Vegas, has seemingly taken a backseat to Lehner during the playoffs. Lehner has started all but two games in the postseason, now 6-1 since returning to play and 9-1 since the Golden Knights acquired him at the Feb. 24 trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fleury said he hoped to move on from the drama and asked Walsh to take down the tweet. If there were any distractions in the Golden Knights’ locker room, it didn’t show Sunday.
Vegas scored three times in the second period to blow the game open. Jonathan Marchessault broke the ice at 11:37 of the first period. After that, the Golden Knights’ depth took over as expected.
Reilly Smith scored on the power play at 2:13 to make it 2-0, Mark Stone made it 3-0 on a deflection at 11:35, and Alex Tuch scored on a breakaway off a flip pass from Nick Cousins at 16:34 to make it 4-0.
Max Pacioretty scored for the second straight game, at 10:47 of the third, to chase Vancouver starter Jacob Markstrom for the first time these playoffs. He made 29 saves and played well enough to give Vancouver a shot.
But Lehner, as well as Vegas as a whole, neutralized the Canucks offensively. Vancouver’s star trio of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser did not register a shot on goal; defenseman Alex Edler led the team with five.
Hughes and Boeser were both minus-3, while the Golden Knights’ depth showed up. Three lines contributed to goals at 5-on-5 and 11 players scored a point, with four of them scoring at least two (Stone, Tuch, Shea Theodore, Smith).
Lehner won for the third time against the Canucks, all shutouts, in his 17th start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In short, he’s taken care of business while taking over the starting job with the Golden Knights. The hot hand continues to sizzle, despite Walsh’s best efforts to push his client back into the Vegas fold. Lehner said he and Fleury laughed off the notion of a controversy while saying the actions of Fleury’s agent were juvenile.
“Me and Marc, we were just laughing,” Lehner said. “It’s always the media and everyone else that makes a big deal out of this. I think me and Marc, we get along great. He’s a really good guy. This team in general since I got here is a hell of a group and everyone is really tight.
“At the end of the day, [Fleury] didn’t do anything. It was his agent and if he wants to be unprofessional, then go ahead. He looks terrible.”
DeBoer said he is confident the issue is 100 percent resolved and it should have no effect going forward.
“That’s noise, that’s outside noise that really is not going to play in any part we’re doing here,” DeBoer said. “We’re here for one thing. It was a good win, a good team win.”
The Golden Knights played like a team that had four days off while Vancouver had one to get ready for the second round. After dispatching the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues in six games in the first round, Vancouver got caught in a forechecking clinic against a team that benefited from a five-game series win over Chicago.
Game 2 is Tuesday. The Canucks won’t have a lot of time to reflect on what happened. Whether they can channel their inner Dallas Stars and thrive on no rest remains to be seen.
“I thought we played good hockey; we did the right things at the right times,” Stone said. “We made it tough on their defense, and that’s what we’re going to have to do that throughout the series. ... Next game, they’re going to bring their best.”