COLUMBUS, Ohio – Whether it was in the crease or in a scrum, Robin Lehner had the Sabres’ back. He was calm making point-blank saves and filled with rage while throwing left jabs.
It was the type of night that endeared him to teammates and showed the folks in Sabreland that Lehner is determined to be the long-term No. 1 goaltender that Buffalo needs.
Lehner was First Star of a wild 4-0 win over Columbus on Friday night. He made 38 saves for his first shutout in more than two years, and he also picked up penalties for leaving the crease and roughing after watching teammate Zach Bogosian get injured behind the net.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a goalie get four penalty minutes and a shutout,” coach Dan Bylsma said in Nationwide Arena. “He’s an engaged goalie, maybe the most engaged goalie I’ve been able to coach. He was certainly engaged tonight. He was on his game.
“I’m just happy we got the zero for him.”
The Sabres certainly pitched in at times, but Lehner did most of the work to earn his first shutout since Jan. 14, 2014, a span of 52 games. He was dynamic during the first and third periods, repeatedly stoning the Blue Jackets on point-blank chances and cross-ice passing plays. Lehner stopped 14 shots in the first and 15 in the third.
“It’s nice,” Lehner said. “I’ve been working hard. There’s been some ups and downs. I’m just going to keep working. I feel pretty good right now.”
He should. He improved to 4-4-2 with a .932 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against average during his 12 appearances with Buffalo.
“Robin did a great job of standing tall in the nets and keeping us in it,” said forward Jamie McGinn, who scored twice to bring his season total to 14 goals. “He’s an outstanding goalie, and he was definitely on. You can tell he’s in the game when he’s getting in the scrums at the end.”
Video and still frames from the scrum will certainly be in the Sabres’ year-end highlight film. Lehner had a front-row seat as Columbus’ Boone Jenner hooked the puck-chasing Bogosian below the goal line. The defenseman crashed facefirst into the boards and needed stitches to close the bloody wound.
Lehner immediately left the crease to stand guard over his fallen teammate, then exchanged punches and dropped the gloves when Jack Johnson came close. After referee Tim Peel guided Lehner back to his net, the goalie took off his mask and shouted at the Blue Jackets with a look of wide-eyed anger that could give children nightmares and send them scurrying for a blankie.
“It’s disgusting to see a teammate go down like that,” Lehner said. “At the end of the day I just didn’t want him to jump in the pile. He didn’t want to do anything, so it’s nothing.
“It’s a team game out there.”
The Sabres finished the game with a depleted team. Cody Franson preceded Bogosian to the trainer’s room after getting hit into the boards during the second period. The defenseman turned to protect the puck, and Scott Hartnell hit Franson hard from behind. Hartnell and Jenner both received five-minute majors.
“He appeared when he left the ice to be a bit woozy, and he didn’t return,” Bylsma said of Franson. “I take exception more with the second hit than the first hit. He was kind of protecting the puck on the first one.
“The second one was a dangerous play. Bogo’s going back for that puck, and he’s 10 feet from the boards and gets a hard play from behind that sends him headfirst into the boards. That was a dangerous play and one Robin took exception to. He was cut on the play and still getting worked on. Other than the cut, I don’t know how he is.”
The Sabres will get better updates when they return to practice Saturday. They play again Sunday when Pittsburgh visits for a 12:30 p.m. matinee, and they’ll look to extend their 3-0-1 run.
They’ll likely have Lehner as their last line of defense and front-line fighter.
“He’s a special guy to be around,” McGinn said. “He’s a character. I’m definitely very happy with the way he played for the boys to be able to get that shutout for him.”