In one season with the New York Islanders, Robin Lehner began rebuilding his life and NHL career while helping the Islanders start their own resurgence.
More than two years after making his final save in an Islanders uniform, Lehner will experience a road reunion with a beloved former team and fan base when he leads the Vegas Golden Knights against the Islanders on Sunday in Elmont, N.Y.
The Knights will look to complete a perfect four-game Eastern Conference trip after beating the New York Rangers 3-2 in a shootout on Friday.
The Islanders began a four-game homestand Thursday with a 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins.
Sunday’s matinee will mark the second time Lehner has opposed the Islanders — for whom he went 25-13-5 while helping the team reach the second round of the playoffs in 2018-19 for just the second time in 26 years — since he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent in July 2019.
Lehner, traded to the Golden Knights on Feb. 24, 2020, signed a five-year extension with the team Oct. 3 and stopped 24 shots in Vegas’ 2-0 loss to New York three weeks later.
But Lehner acknowledged after Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils that he was particularly looking forward to facing the Islanders.
“I think about it all the time,” Lehner said of opposing the team in its home arena. “That fan base saved my life.”
In a first-person essay for The Athletic in September 2018, Lehner said the Islanders were the only team to offer him a contract after he spent several weeks the previous spring in a rehab facility, where he was treated for substance abuse and diagnosed as bipolar.
The 30-year-old, who has become a public advocate for mental health issues, said he continues to stay in touch with Islanders fans who shared with him their own battles.
“Gonna be amazing seeing you guys again,” Lehner tweeted on Saturday afternoon. “Long Island, I’m forever grateful for you(r) place in my journey.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said Saturday he was appreciative of all the goalie did to help the team begin establishing itself as a perennial contender — New York has reached the conference finals in each of the past two seasons — and proud of the personal strides he’s made.
“Robin was a big part of us getting traction after all the change (in) my first year,” said Trotz, who was named the Islanders head coach on June 21, 2018, 12 days before Lehner signed.
“What he’s been able to do with his life first — his family and dealing with everything from depression to all those types of issues — (and) having the career that he’s having, getting, we would say, back on the rails from maybe a little bit of a spiral, it (starts) with if the person’s not in a good place, it’s going to be hard to have success in this game.
“I’m really proud of Robin.”
–Field Level Media