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Binghamton brigade stands firmly behind their man

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
After watching Robin Lehner backstop the Binghamton Senators to a Calder Cup crown a year ago, Ottawa centre Zack Smith isn't the least bit surprised that the 20-year-old Swede has brought some of that success to the big club in the absence of the injured Craig Anderson (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images).

They have seen this act before, this ability to stand tall in the glare of the brightest spotlight.

Take a tour around the Ottawa Senators' dressing room these days and you'll find eight players who were a part of a Calder Cup championship run for the ages by the club's American Hockey League affiliate a year ago. While their circumstances have obviously changed since then, one thing surely rings true among the Binghamton brigade.

Their confidence in goaltender Robin Lehner — the young Swede who backstopped the B-Sens to the top of the mountain with a playoff MVP performance — remains absolute and unwavering. And no, they're not the least bit surprised that the 20-year-old Lehner has taken the bull by the horns in the absence of injured Ottawa starter Craig Anderson, notching back-to-back victories this week, including his first career National Hockey League shutout.

The question is barely asked, and Senators centre Zack Smith is already shaking his head emphatically.

"He's a guy that thrives on pressure like that and being thrown into tough situations," Smith said of Lehner, who'll make his third straight start tonight when Ottawa faces the Chicago Blackhawks and their high-octane attack at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). "He did that in the playoffs for us ... he was awesome from the get-go.

"It's no surprise to me. I knew he would take advantage of the opportunity (here) and he has so far."

Added forward Erik Condra: "He's a competitor and he likes to win. He takes challenges on like he did in Binghamton. We're not surprised. We know he's a good goalie."

Colin Greening, another member of the Binghamton brigade, recalls the first two games of the Calder Cup final in particular, when the Houston Aeros came at the B-Sens in waves in their steamy home rink in Texas. But Lehner's standout play helped ensure his team went back to Binghamton with a split, setting the table for their eventual championship celebration.

"When we were on the bench, we'd see a 2-on-1 and we were pretty confident he was going to stop it," said Greening. "And if you have that comfort level (as a team), it carries over to other aspects of your game. We're you're in the offensive zone, you're not afraid to make mistakes."

Smith agreed with that sentiment, saying "we were an offensive-minded team and we took some risks, so it was nice knowing there was someone who would give us those stops at the other end. There's definitely something to be said about playing in front of a goalie who has that confidence."

As a group, the Senators are a pretty confident bunch at the moment, riding a 7-2-1 streak into tonight's contest with the Blackhawks — their final matchup against a Western Conference foe this season. Both teams find themselves in similar situations in terms of the playoff picture. With 76 points, Ottawa (34-23-8) stands sixth in the hotly-contested Eastern Conference, while Chicago (34-24-7) sits in the same spot in the equally torrid West.

"They're a good team and they went through a rough patch, too, around the same time we did," said Senators forward Chris Neil. "They're playing good hockey and so are we, so everyone should be in for a very good game tonight ... We're playing to still climb the ladder and it's a big two points for us."

Even with captain Jonathan Toews still sidelined with a concussion, the Hawks boast plenty of offensive firepower — Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and former Senators star Marian Hossa the foremost among them. But count on the guy tasked with fending off their shots to not wilt a bit in the face of such top-end NHL offensive talent. Experience alone says it will be so.

"We knew he had the ability to play at this level and play under a lot of pressure," Greening said of Lehner. "You look at what he did last year and I think he's really brought that (confidence) up here now."

Around the boards

While the Senators played it tight in Tuesday's 1-0 win over the Bruins, expect a different type of game tonight against the offensive-minded Hawks. "They play a bit looser than Boston does," said Senators centre Jason Spezza, who carries a 10-game point streak (8-13-21) into tonight's contest. "So we have to make sure we're not giving them too many free chances. If we stick to our system and keep things pretty tight, we should be able to generate some scoring chances that way." ... Defenceman Erik Karlsson has 18 points (7-11) during an eight-game point streak ... No lineup changes for the Senators tonight, so that means winger Kaspars Daugavins and blueliner Matt Carkner are the healthy scratches against the Hawks ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for tonight's game ... The Blackhawks last visited Scotiabank Place on Jan. 19, 2010, with the Senators posting a 4-1 win. Last season, Ottawa dropped a 3-2 decision in a shootout at the United Center in Chicago (Jan. 7, 2011).

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