CHICAGO (AP)The Chicago Blackhawks needed a lift, and Robin Lehner delivered – against his former team, too.
Lehner made 38 saves, Dennis Gilbert scored his first career goal and the banged-up Blackhawks beat the New York Islanders 5-2 on Friday night.
”When we dump the puck in, play the right way, don’t turn the puck over as much, we’re getting good results,” Lehner said, ”so I think that’s what this team needs, just understand that when we play the right way, we get goals, instead of forcing it. I think that’s coming.”
Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik also scored for Chicago, which bounced back nicely from Monday night’s ugly 7-1 loss to New Jersey. Matthew Highmore was credited with his first goal of the season when his third-period centering pass went off Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock and into the net.
New York (23-10-3) lost for the fourth time in five games in the opener of a three-game road trip. Ross Johnston and Casey Cizikas scored for the Islanders, and Thomas Greiss made eight saves on 11 shots before he was replaced by Semyon Varlamov in the first.
”These last five games, they haven’t been to our identity,” forward Anders Lee said. ”We’ve got to figure this out quickly.”
It was the first game for the Blackhawks since defensemen Brent Seabrook and Calvin de Haan were placed on long-term injured reserve. Seabrook and de Haan each had season-ending right shoulder surgery earlier Friday.
Chicago (16-17-6) also played without forwards Andrew Shaw, Drake Caggiula and Brandon Saad and defenseman Adam Boqvist due to injuries.
The Islanders jumped in front when Johnston finished a give-and-go with Josh Bailey 5:50 into the first, but the Blackhawks grabbed control with three goals in a span of 4:22.
Gilbert tied it at 1 when he skated to the low slot, got a slick pass from Dylan Strome and slid a backhand between Greiss’ legs at 7:34. Gilbert then celebrated with a big fist pump while Kirby Dach retrieved the puck for him.
”I just found myself along the slot and Stromer’s got such good vision, just found me and tried to get it on net,” Gilbert said.
Kubalik got his 11th goal of his rookie season when his shot went off the stick of Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy and past Greiss at 9:46. DeBrincat then stopped an eight-game drought with his first goal since Dec. 8, leading Islanders coach Barry Trotz to bring in Varlamov.
”You get as much out as you put in and we haven’t put enough in lately in terms of our structure, commitment and accountability to each other,” Trotz said. ”We’ve got a little cheat in our game. I think we’re playing `full.’ It’s hard to be hungry when you’re full. We don’t respect the situation.”
The Islanders turned up the pressure in the second, but Lehner made 16 stops to preserve Chicago’s 3-1 lead. He denied Michael Dal Colle in front at 13:55, and got some help from Gilbert when the sprawling defenseman blocked Anthony Beauviller’s shot with about three minutes left.
Lehner spent last season with New York, setting a career high with 25 wins and six shutouts and finishing with a 2.13 goals-against average. He revealed during training camp that he has struggled with addiction and bipolar disorder, and then won the Masterton Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
He talked to the Islanders about a new contract, but ended up signing a $5 million, one-year deal with the Blackhawks in free agency.
”They meant a lot to me, so obviously it was nice,” Lehner said. ”It was a little bit different than the other times I’ve played against former teams because yeah, they’re a great group of guys in there.”
NOTES: Boqvist hurt his right shoulder in the loss to the Devils. Slater Koekkoek replaced him in the lineup. … Caggiula (concussion) has been skating and could return soon.
Islanders: Visit the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.
Blackhawks: Visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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