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Lehner back in spotlight as B-Sens go for clincher

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Robin Lehner will be in goal for the Binghamton Senators tonight in a potential series-ending game in Portland (Just Sports Photography).

The education of Robin Lehner continues to accelerate as the Binghamton Senators make their way deeper into the Calder Cup playoffs.

Tonight provides another major test for 19-year-old Swedish goaltender, as the B-Sens try to close out the Portland Pirates on the road in Game 6 of their American Hockey League Atlantic Division final. Binghamton leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into tonight's matchup at the Cumberland County Civic Center (7 p.m., Team 1200, ahllive.com).

Three nights ago, Lehner was pulled after allowing four goals in the opening 15 minutes of a 6-2 loss to the Pirates at Broome County Arena in Binghamton, N.Y., when the B-Sens could have wrapped up the series and earned themselves some much-needed rest. Barry Brust, the veteran who handled the bulk of the B-Sens' goaltending duties during the regular season but was waylaid by injury in the opening round against the Manchester Monarchs, mopped up.

While there was some suggestion afterward that Binghamton might go back to Brust tonight, B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst is sticking with Lehner, believing it's the right call for a goaltender who has posted a 6-2 record so far in the post-season with a 2.91 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. The Ottawa Senators' top goaltending prospect backstopped three straight overtime wins against the Monarchs to help the B-Sens advance.

"(Lehner) deserves to be in there right now," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray told the Team 1200 earlier today. "It's been a great learning experience for him."

It some ways, it has been the latest in a series of unplanned chapters during Lehner's rookie professional season. A second-round pick (46th overall) by the Senators in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Lehner was supposed to carry the bulk of the goaltending load in Binghamton this season. But injuries in Ottawa led to a pair of callups to the big club and by the time Lehner finally got himself settled in Binghamton, Brust had established himself as the starter. However, in the eyes of Senators goaltending coach Rick Wamsley, it was a beneficial situation.

"For him to play behind Barry in the regular season, I thought, was great," Wamsley said of Lehner. "He saw what solid goaltending could do for a team game in and game out. If he wanted to play a number of games in a row, that's what we expected out of the position. It's been a great year of learning for Robin and now he's taking the lessons he's learned and applying them in the playoffs so far."

"Not everybody is Tom Barrasso, where you come out of high school and you're a star in the National Hockey League. There are steps to take ... You know it's going to take 50, 60 or 70 professional hockey games before he gets it on a consistent basis. I think we've taken major steps with Robin (toward) that end goal of being a National Hockey League goaltender, but there's still more time to go." - Rick Wamsley
That learning curve wasn't always the smoothest, given the way the season played out in both Ottawa and Binghamton. But there was no questioning the organization's commitment to Lehner.

"Robin came into the year with a lot of expectations," said Wamsley. "There were some speed bumps and hurdles we had to get over through conversation and through video that, to Robin's credit ... he's a strong-willed individual and sometimes you had to break through that will, and he understands why we've done it.

"So far in the playoffs, you've seen the fruits of everybody's labour: mine, Kurt's, Stirls (B-Sens assistant Steve Stirling), the coaches and management up in Ottawa. Everybody's kind of had a little piece of him this year. Through all the conversations, he finally understands what we're talking about and he's starting to get it."

And for goaltenders, that road to the National League is perhaps the longest of all.

"Not everybody is Tom Barrasso, where you come out of high school and you're a star in the National Hockey League. There are steps to take," said Wamsley. "You see (Lehner's) potential, you see the skill, you see the size, you see what the goalie could become if he pays attention to detail and you know it's going to take some time.

"You know it's going to take 50, 60 or 70 professional hockey games before he gets it on a consistent basis. I think we've taken major steps with Robin (toward) that end goal of being a National Hockey League goaltender, but there's still more time to go."

Around the boards

B-Sens forward Kaspars Daugavins, one of the team's most productive goal scorers in the playoffs, is expected to play tonight. He left practice early on Thursday with an upper-body injury but Kleinendorst told reporters today "I'd be surprised if he can't go." ... Binghamton might get forward Cody Bass back from the injured list for Game 6. He'll take the pre-game warmup tonight before a decision is made. "I feel better and I think that's a huge improvement from where I was," Bass told the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin after the B-Sens' pre-game skate. "Right now, everything's a little better. Coach and I are talking about (him returning) tonight. I'm still a little unsure what to do." ... Defenceman Jared Cowen, who'll make his AHL playoff debut tonight, was paired with Andre Benoit during the pre-game skate.

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