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Robin Lehner says Islanders fans ‘saved my life’

Robin Lehner started his countdown the moment the Golden Knights’ East Coast swing was revealed on the schedule.

In truth, the goalie has waited almost three years to return to Long Island and show appreciation in person for his time with the New York Islanders.

“That fan base saved my life,” Lehner said.

Lehner developed a special bond with Islanders fans during his one season with the team and is scheduled to make an emotional return Sunday when the Knights close out their four-game road trip.

Those feelings of affection are almost certain to be reciprocated when he steps on the ice at brand-new UBS Arena in Elmont, New York.

“I think about it all the time,” Lehner said. “I’m not trying to make a big deal out it. I was there one year. It’s not like I was there 10 years. But it’s going to be nice seeing them all again.

“They have a special place in my heart and in my family’s heart.”

Special relationship

Lehner’s unique relationship with the Islanders started in 2018 when he signed a one-year contract following his stint in rehab for drug and alcohol addiction.

He detailed his recovery and revealed his bipolar 1 diagnosis in a personal essay for The Athletic prior to the 2018-19 season, and that openness and vulnerability was embraced by fans of his new team.

Lehner resurrected his career with the Islanders, going 25-13-5 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average on the way to being named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie. He also combined with goaltending partner Thomas Greiss to win the William Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals against.

The Islanders reached the playoffs for the first time in three seasons, and Lehner took home the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.

“The Islanders, it’s like a family. And I think what we wanted to do as a family is be there to support him, not as a hockey player, but also as a person,” said Kim Moisa, a resident of Commack, New York, who grew close to Lehner during his time with the team. “Islanders fans really grabbed a hold of him and said, ‘We got you.’ ”

Since Lehner departed Long Island as a free agent in 2019 and signed with Chicago, he’s yet to face the Islanders on the road. The Blackhawks were scheduled to visit New York in April 2020, but Lehner was traded to the Knights before that.

Last season, the Knights and Islanders didn’t play during the condensed schedule. They could have met in the Stanley Cup Final, but each team was eliminated in the semifinal.

Lehner said his wife, Donya, is planning to make the trip to Long Island for Sunday’s game.

“Robin was a big part of us getting traction after all the change my first year,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Saturday. “He was really good for us that year, and we were really good for him. It was a really good match, and all the credit goes to Robin because it’s hard to do a lot of the stuff he did. I’m just really proud of him.”

‘Stand on his head’

Lehner signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Knights in 2020 and took over as the starter this season after Marc-Andre Fleury was traded to Chicago during the offseason.

While the Knights were ravaged by injuries in October and November, Lehner helped keep the club in the playoff hunt.

“We asked him to stand on his head early in the season with some of the stuff we were giving up with the lineups we had,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now he’s got to almost change his mentality to that 25-shot, four or five big saves a night mentality that he’s so good at.

”I think there’s a little bit of an adjustment to that, and he looked like he’s settling in and getting real comfortable now.”

Lehner played 14 of the Knights’ first 17 games, including a 2-0 loss to the Islanders on Oct. 24 at T-Mobile Arena. But he hit a rough stretch starting just before Thanksgiving.

After losing three of five starts, Lehner was pulled from a sixth on Dec. 8 after allowing three goals on 10 shots against Dallas. Minnesota also touched him for four goals Dec. 11, including one in the third period that came directly from the goalie’s misplay.

But Lehner rebounded on the road trip with two wins, stopping 46 of 50 shots against Boston and New Jersey to improve to 13-9 with a 3.05 GAA and .905 save percentage overall.

“Quite honestly I felt good for long parts of the season but still, there’s been a little bit too many goals,” Lehner said. “Just got to keep plugging away. I don’t really care. Stats can look how they look. I don’t look at them anyway. We want to win and keep rolling.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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