Updated August 3, 2020 - 9:49 pm
It was a day for statements inside a bubble.
After Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner made the first one by taking a knee to promote social justice during the playing of the national anthems Monday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, the Golden Knights scored four goals in the third period to erase a 3-1 deficit and post a 5-3 decision over the Dallas Stars.
The impressive comeback in the first of three round-robin games that will determine the seedings in the next round should serve VGK well for the rest of these playoffs that are so unusual in shape and structure that Lord Stanley and the Great Gretzky might not recognize them.
But this being 2020, and hindsight also being that, it’s an easy guess as to which statement will get the most notice. And why Lehner finds himself in the media spotlight again.
As part of coach Pete DeBoer’s alternating goalie system heading into the round robin — Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury split the final six games before the pause and now the first two after it — it was going to be focused on him regardless.
But after bending a knee with Reaves and the Stars’ Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson before the puck was dropped, the bright light was turned up to 11 even before he steered away the first of 27 shots he would face from the Stars.
In the political crease
It was the second time Lehner made a statement many will consider political in nature. The first was in 2016 when he briefly wore a mask adorned with a small sticker in support of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump on Military Appreciation Night in Buffalo, New York.
Decals on the back of the mask supporting 82nd Airborne Division infantrymen and the five branches of the U.S. military were more prominent. But again, it was an easy guess as to which of the accoutrements sparked the most conversation.
“I did a mistake once, putting the Trump sticker on my mask — something I regret now after seeing how divisive things have been,”said the 29-year-old veteran acquired by the Knights just before the pandemic silenced the Zambonis.
Lehner, born in Sweden and married to a Persian woman, used the microphone the way Terrible Ted Lindsay used his hockey stick. No words were minced.
“At the end of the day, that’s not politics,” he said in a low but firm voice. “This is human rights. I’ve been part of conversations; everyone’s talking about conversations and education and listening. But it’s time to start doing something, not just let this be a news cycle and forget about it and do it all over again.”
The way Lehner sees it, life should be like five-on-five hockey. Everybody starts at equal strength.
“Everyone should have the same chance in society. Everyone should be treated the same,” he said during his pointed remarks. “I’ve seen a lot growing up. My family is of color, and what I’ve seen and how things are, it disgusts me.
“At the end of the day I love America, but there’s a bunch of things that need to be corrected. I think they have the power to do so. I think it’s time for whites to step into battle with our brothers and sisters and make some change.”
After taking the knee, Lehner mostly stood tall between the pipes.
If he seemed out of sorts at times, it was understandable.
He was the primary reason the Knights were able to lead early despite coming out listless. And after allowing three goals on consecutive Stars shots midway through the second period — two of which were not his fault and a third that could have been prevented with a routine clearing pass — he stood tall in the final two minutes when Dallas mustered its final push.
As for who gets the nod when push comes to shove between him and Fleury and the games that really count, absolutely nothing was resolved — with the possible exception of one’s definition of courage as it applies to a hockey goaltender.
Whereas I once thought standing in the path of a vulcanized rubber disk aimed at one’s head at speeds of more than 100 mph might have been a quintessential example of it, what Robin Lehner (and the others) did under a metaphorical bubble in a Canadian province Monday cast the word in a different light.
Regardless of which side of the blue line one lines up.