Lehner steals show, and game

Blackhawks goalie in top form

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Robin Lehner is one of the best stories in sports, a mental-health advocate who has spoken about overcoming his demons, beating drug and alcohol addiction and making the most of a second chance.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/12/2019 (1073 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Robin Lehner is one of the best stories in sports, a mental-health advocate who has spoken about overcoming his demons, beating drug and alcohol addiction and making the most of a second chance.

He also happens to be one of the top goalies in the NHL — a fact those in attendance at Bell MTS Place on Thursday night can attest to. Lehner stopped 36 shots, including several of the “How the heck did he do that?” variety, to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.

“You have to give them some credit. They played well. They kind of played to their strengths. Lehner’s having a great season over there,” said a frustrated Jets forward Adam Lowry, who was denied on three chances of his own. 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Robin Lehner gets his pad on the shot from Winnipeg Jets' Kyle Connor during the first period in Winnipeg, Thursday.

Winnipeg falls to 20-13-2 after dropping a second straight game on home ice. Chicago improves to 14-16-6, thanks largely to their 28-year-old Swedish netminder who was a one-man highlight reel. 

Lehner’s stellar body of work included three cases of grand-theft larceny on Jets forward Kyle Connor, who had a game-high seven shots on goal and might have had a hat trick on just about any other night. Instead, both he and his teammates repeatedly skated away shaking their heads in disbelief. 

“We had a lot of good chances, a lot of shots to the net. When you feel like a goalie is going like he was (Thursday night), I don’t think we got too much traffic in front of the net — and that’s what you need to do. But, we had our chances and they didn’t go in,” said forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who had four shots go for naught. 

Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season with the New York Islanders, then signed a free-agent deal with Chicago during the summer. He’s shared the workload with veteran Corey Crawford, but has much better overall numbers. Coach Jeremy Colliton would be wise to ride the hot hand as his team tries to get back into the playoff picture.

“Maybe take his eyes away?” captain Blake Wheeler said when asked what his team could have done to make life more difficult for Lehner. “He was seeing the puck really well and even the really good chances we had, he was moving really well. He played a good game.”

The other story of the night was Patrick Kane, the 31-year-old superstar who shows no signs of slowing down and was in on all four goals. Memo to the Jets — you might want to cover No. 88.

The first came on the first shot, just 59 seconds into the contest. Chicago took advantage of an aggressive pinch by the Jets, breaking out on a two-on-one. Kane fed Alex Nylander with a perfect saucer pass, which the young Blackhawks forward one-timed past Connor Hellebuyck for the quick lead.

It came just seconds after Wheeler and Jack Roslovic failed to get a shot on their own two-on-one.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets' Jack Roslovic checks Chicago Blackhawks' Alex Nylander during the second period.

“First five minutes are slow for us, we have a two-on-one, we don’t get to the net, theirs gets to the back of ours,” head coach Paul Maurice said. 

It was just the kind of start the visitors were looking for, considering they played 24 hours earlier at home against Colorado, dropping a 4-1 decision that had the once-powerhouse club in a surly mood. Veteran defenceman Duncan Keith, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, blasted himself and teammates after the loss, saying they need to start getting “a little pissed off,” about their recent play, which has them at the bottom of the Central Division standings. 

They certainly looked like they were on a mission off the start Thursday, taking the play to Winnipeg early off the strength of the early goal. But the Jets found their legs as the opening period went on and kept coming in waves, doing everything but scoring.

The second period was extremely lopsided, with the Jets outshooting the Blackhawks 14-3 but running into a brick wall in Lehner. Chicago didn’t get their first shot until more than 13 minutes had passed.

“I thought from five minutes straight through to the end of the second, we were right and good, and that was where our opportunity seemed to be to win the game,” Maurice said. 

Visions of a comeback in the final frame took a hit when Kane set up Dominik Kubalik for a goal just 37 seconds into it, after a costly turnover by the Jets in their own zone. 

Winnipeg cut the deficit in half at 5:09 of the period, finally getting a shot past Lehner in the form of a point blast from defenceman Tucker Poolman which found the top corner through a crowd for his second of the season. 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele and Chicago Blackhawks' Olli Maatta look for a loose puck during the second period.

But the Jets shot themselves in the foot and halted momentum with a too-many-men penalty that proved to be costly. Wheeler stepped on the ice for Mark Scheifele, but threw a check on a Chicago player before his teammate could get off the ice.

“I don’t think Blake was expecting the guy to come in the direction that he was coming, because he changed direction on him and ran into him. You make contact within that five foot box, you’re going to get a call like that,” Maurice said. 

Once again it was Kane playing a key role, as he fed Erik Gustafsson for the one-timer on the ensuing power play at 10:58. Anthony Bitetto had his stick slashed out of his hands a few seconds earlier.

“That’s a tough one, the guy is coming up there in that lane. Just trying to read it and get out there and create a race for the puck. Unfortunately, our heels clicked there and the ref deemed that I took away some sort of glorious chance from them. Unfortunate timing. Those ones seem to find a way to haunt you,” Wheeler said. 

Winnipeg’s penalty killing, ranked second-last in the NHL, has been an ongoing storyline this season. And, once again, it reared its ugly head. And their power play, which has shown some signs of life lately after a sluggish start, went 0-for-2 on a night the Jets sure could have used a goal.

Kane finished off a terrific offensive night by adding a goal at 16:39 of the third to go with his three assists.

“Yeah, he had a good night. He does such a good job stretching open the ice. His linemates do a good job taking care of their end and allow him to play to his strengths. Any time he gets open ice he’s real dangerous. You saw that he can shoot, he can make plays. That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league,” Lowry said. 

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck can't stop a shot from Chicago Blackhawks' Alex Nylander as Jets' Tucker Poolman tries to defend during the first period.

Winnipeg has now lost five times this season to teams that were in last place when the game was played — twice to Los Angeles, and once each to Chicago, New Jersey and Detroit.  

The Jets now hit the road for a Saturday afternoon game in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild, then return home to face the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night before the three-day Christmas break.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

History

Updated on Thursday, December 19, 2019 9:51 PM CST: Adds photos

Updated on Thursday, December 19, 2019 11:40 PM CST: Final version with quotes.

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