The New York Islanders can clinch their first playoff berth since 2016 with a victory against the Sabres on Saturday night.
Former Sabres goalie Robin Lehner equaled his career high in victories with 23 in the Islanders' 5-4 win against Winnipeg on Thursday night. He is 23-12 with a 2.22 goals against average. He was 14-26 for the NHL-worst Sabres last season with a 3.01 goals against.
“It’s a different feeling this year in general,” Lehner told Newsday. “We’re having fun. It’s a positive atmosphere. It’s not surrounded by negativity. That was one of the hard things when I was in Buffalo, just this cloud and atmosphere of negativity.”
Lehner chronicled his personal battle with alcohol abuse and bipolar disorder in a first-person account in The Athletic before the season began.
In late December after he and the Islanders earned a 3-1 victory against the Sabres, he described being back in KeyBank Center as "mixed emotions."
"I really liked playing for this team," he said then. "But everything that's happened has happened. It's been a tough time. It's been tough."
He told Newsday that he was ready for the challenge of what playing in New York might bring because of his time in Buffalo.
"Buffalo prepared me,” Lehner told Newsday. “It couldn’t be any worse. Buffalo would prepare me to go to Toronto. It was so bad there sometimes. You would walk out to games and the game hadn’t started and people are already booing. It’s an incredibly passionate fan base and they’re filling that building, but it can be miserable in that rink.
“Everyone talks the Toronto media and Toronto is the toughest city in the league to play in, don’t get me wrong,” added Lehner, clarifying he wants to see his former teammates do well. “But Buffalo is not easy to play in. The media is incredibly hard. I’ve been in that negative spiral. I’ve been caught in it for a couple of years. It’s really tough and you start to lose perspective. I’ve moved on. I don’t care what anyone in Buffalo says anymore.”