TORONTO – Robin Lehner was ready to make a statement. He was starting on consecutive days for the first time with Buffalo. He had a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes, enough to point him toward a third straight victory.
Instead, he ended up on the Sabres’ bench midway through Tuesday’s game, throwing equipment and dirty looks.
“I don’t like to give up,” Lehner said after a 4-3 loss to Toronto. “I don’t like to get out of the game. I’m a competitive guy. I just don’t like to give up. I’d like to end something I started.”
As the Sabres’ No. 1 goaltender, Lehner will soon get another chance to finish a game. It wasn’t going to happen against the Maple Leafs, who scored three times in the opening 9:45 of the second period to ruin the night of Lehner and the Sabres.
While the 19,122 fans in Air Canada Centre were roaring about the rally, coach Dan Bylsma sent Anders Nilsson to the crease to replace Lehner. Lehner shouted toward the Buffalo bench as he skated past, then spiked his mask and chucked his glove in anger.
“He should be upset with getting pulled,” Bylsma said. “That’s part of Robin’s game, that emotion. I have no problem with that.”
Who was Lehner yelling at?
“He was just upset,” Bylsma said.
Said the goalie: “I was just frustrated. We’re still pretty close as a team here. It’s not anyone in general. It’s still frustrating. It’s frustrating to get out of the net.”
All goalies hate getting the hook. What bothered Lehner is feels he’s earned the chance to fight back from bad goals.
There certainly was a bad goal. The Leafs’ Matt Martin sent a sharp-angle shot toward the net from the left boards. It slipped through Lehner’s arm and trickled over the goal line, tying the game at 2-2 with 8:29 gone in the second.
Just 1:16 later, the Leafs were in front and Lehner was out.
“Sometimes you make mistakes. I think I’ve been pretty good this year of letting it go and keep going,” Lehner said. “I want that back. But again, I’m a goaltender. That’s part of my life. Mistakes happen. Don’t let them affect me is what I’m getting better and better at. It’s still frustrating.”
Like the Sabres, Lehner hasn’t been able to get on a run. It’s been win a couple, lose a couple. Because the Sabres scored late to make it 4-3, the loss went to backup Anders Nilsson. It kept Lehner at 10-12-5, though his save percentage dropped from .922 to .920 and his goals-against average rose from 2.48 to 2.54.
The downturn Tuesday started as soon as the second period did. Leo Komarov scored with 32 seconds gone, his tip bouncing off Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe and into the net. Auston Matthews followed Martin’s goal by getting open in the slot.
“It’s more just the timeliness of the goals,” Bylsma said. “Our first shift and a bouncer off some shin pads and in. In succession they score again from the bad angle, then the third one we had three guys go behind the net on a bit of a puck retrieval, and they get it out front to Matthews for the third goal.
“Really at that point in time, you just want to stop the momentum that the Leafs have.”
Lehner wanted to be the one to stop it. After allowing three goals on 16 shots, he didn’t get the chance. The next one could come Friday when Buffalo hosts Detroit or Saturday when the Sabres visit Montreal.
“I didn’t want to come out, but it was coach’s decision,” Lehner said. “We come out the second period, they get a lucky one. It’s unfortunate off 'Caber,' then I make a mistake on the second goal. They get a little bit of momentum, then Matthews scores a nice third. We can’t climb back.”