For a goalie who had never started an NHL playoff game, Robin Lehner has looked pretty dialed in through the Islanders first two games.
Lehner has stopped 98-of-103 shots over the three wins, and has come up with big - and timely - saves for the Islanders. He was in command when he robbed Evgeni Malkin twice at the end of the second period in a 2-2 tie in Game 1 and again flashed the pad on Matt Cullen early in a scoreless Game 2. He was solid throughout Sunday's 4-1 win in Game 3, stopping pucks with his head, back and whatever else was necessary to preserve the Isles 2-1 lead.
"He made big saves at the right time," Head Coach Barry Trotz said after Game 2. "You get saves sometimes when they are not needed, but he made timely saves."
As a nine-year vet, Lehner isn't really thought of as a playoff newbie, but until this year, he'd only played 49 playoff minutes in the NHL. Those were a pair of relief appearances with the Senators in 2013, but Lehner leaned on a different sort of playoff experience heading into Game 1.
Lehner backstopped the Binghamton Senators to a Calder Cup - the American Hockey League championship - in 2011. He went 14-4-0 on the Senators' run, posting a 2.10 goals-against average, a .939 SV% and three shutouts, winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy (AHL playoff MVP) in the process.
In arguably the second-best league in the world, Lehner experienced the grind of four seven-game series', momentum swings and playoff pressure. Before his first playoff start, Lehner said he was drawing on his Calder Cup experience.
"100 percent," Lehner said ahead of Game 1. "The league back then was really good. It still is good. It's the same type of grind with tougher travel than this league because you're busing a lot… My job was to save pucks in important situations, pressure situations as a 19 year old. I don't see it as any different coming into this. I'm just going to come out and play my game."
Binghamton beat the Houston Aeros in six games to claim the AHL crown. Lehner didn't allow more than two goals in any of the six games in the final, and didn't lose consecutive games in his 18 appearances in the playoffs.
Video: PIT@NYI, Gm2: Lehner extends to stone Cullen's try
Lehner said being a part of the Senators in 2013 also helped get a sense of the preparation for an NHL postseason.
"You're still a part of it you know, you're still a part of preparation, a part of the games, even though you're not on the ice, you gain experience that way too," Lehner said.
The start to the playoffs are a continuation of a dream season for the Islanders goalie. Lehner had a career-year, going 25-13-5 while finishing top-five with a 2.13 GAA and a .930 SV%. He split the William M. Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss, which he felt was a testament to the whole team's defensive performance, and felt that playing meaningful games down the stretch also helped him prepare for the big stage of the playoffs. He enjoys the challenge and has been thriving in it thus far.
"He's in a good place, he's focused and he's a good goaltender," Trotz said. "When you're focused and you're prepared and you're calm, you're going to have success."
Video: NYI@PIT, Gm3: Lehner alertly stands tall to deny Pens
Calm. That's the word Lehner used to describe how he's felt through the first three playoff games, adding that he's been able to see shots and that his teammates have been able to clear pucks out of dangerous situations. A good example of that was Tom Kuhnhackl hustling back to tie up Dominik Simon on a rebound try in the first period of Sunday's Game 3. Lehner said that's been part of his and the Isles success this season.
"We work for each other and care for each other and play as a group," Lehner said. "I feel calm in the net right now."
Lehner isn't satisfied with three good playoff starts either. The Islanders goalie knows there's still work to do before he or the team claims any sort of success.
"When we win the fourth one we can be happy," Lehner said. "Right now, we have three games and we need to win one more. They're a hell of a hockey team over there. We can't take anything for granted."