BINGHAMTON, N.Y. —
|Robin Lehner's stellar playoff performance in goal has been appreciated by the fans who flock to Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena to watch their beloved Binghamton Senators (Just Sports Photography). |
The roar will become deafening when the Binghamton Senators starting lineup is introduced tonight at Broome County Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
And if the sold-out house follows the form it's shown in recent weeks, nobody figures to hear louder cheers than goaltender Robin Lehner
, whose standout play during this post-season has gone a long way toward delivering the B-Sens to the brink of the city's first Calder Cup championship.
Don't think for a minute that Lehner — who watched Barry Brust become the people's choice in goal for most of the regular season and heard it from the home fans when his own play wasn't up to par — doesn't savour every second of that adulation.
"I can’t express how important these fans have been in this playoff run, especially for me," said the 19-year-old Lehner, who'll be back between the pipes again for tonight's critical Game 4 of the Calder Cup Finals against the Houston Aeros (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). "I’m really comfortable going out right now. I’m looking forward to home games. Before, I (only) looked forward to away games. Now I look forward to every game, which is a big thing."
Big would also describe the growth that Lehner, a second-round pick (46th overall) by the Senators in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, has shown since taking over the net from an ailing Brust in the opening round of the playoffs against the Manchester Monarchs. With the B-Sens down 3-1 and facing elimination, Lehner backstopped three straight overtime victories to complete an improbable comeback.
Twice in the post-season, Lehner has been pulled in the first period and rebounded the next game with a shutout. He essentially saved Binghamton's season when he foiled the Monarchs' Bud Holloway on a rare overtime penalty shot in Game 6 of the opening round. His numbers for the playoffs (11-4, 2.25 goals-against average, .935 save percentage) are outstanding across the board.
"Since he went into the net after they were down in that first series, you see what he’s done," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. "Just watching his overall poise and confidence now ... he’s different and he’s better."
Indeed, when B-Sens head coach Kurt Kleinendorst looks for reasons why his team trails the Aeros 2-1 in the best-of-seven final, goaltending isn't one of them. Lehner has allowed only five goals in three games, but Binghamton has twice been held to a single goal by Aeros netminder Matt Hackett. The B-Sens' offence clearly needs a jump start and Kleinendorst hopes it begins tonight.
"We’ve been a good bounce back team," Kleinendorst said following the B-Sens' pre-game skate earlier today. "We lost Game 1 down in Houston and, even though we didn’t play great in Game 2, we certainly played better and we found a way to win. I would expect that (again tonight), but I don’t have a crystal ball. It’s a funny game and it’s been a real close, tight series.
"This could be one of those (series) where every game is 2-1 and up to this point, that’s really what we’ve had with the exception of one empty-net goal. But then again, who knows? Funnier things have happened. It’s just really hard to say what’s going to take place tonight. But my gut feeling is the effort’s going to be there from both sides."
Lehner also knows he and his teammates have plenty of better hockey left in them.
"We haven't been playing like we should," he said. "We had games in the playoffs when we did that and we scored goals, but the last two games, we had five irons -- we hit two post shots and three bars. I don't think we could be more unlucky. It's one-goal games right now, and it could easily not be ... It could have easily been 4-2 (in Game 3).
"I don’t really feel any frustration or anything. I know we’re going to come back hard (tonight)." Around the boards
No matter what happens tonight, Lehner figures to be greeted like a rock star when he gets home to the apartment he shares with forward Bobby Butler
. That's just life with Opie, the puppy the two brought into their lives recently. "I needed something to cheer me up every day, so I just got an impulse and went and bought him two months ago,” said Lehner. “(He has) the kind of personality that loves you no matter whatever happens in a game. I can have a bad game and I come home and this little puppy is right there ... we’re enjoying coming home to that.” ... Binghamton led the American Hockey League with a 3.94-goals for average in the first three rounds of the playoffs, but has been limited to four goals in three games by the Aeros ... B-Sens forward Ryan Potulny, who leads all AHL playoff scorers (14-11-25), has been held pointless by Houston so far. The scoreless skid is his longest since the last three games of the regular season ... Counting time spent with the big club in Ottawa, B-Sens forwards Butler and Colin Greening
will play their 104th games of their seasons tonight. It's also game No. 101 for Binghamton as a team ... Game 5 is set for Saturday night at Broome County Arena (7:05 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). Sellout crowds of 4,710 are again anticipated tonight and Saturday.