Lehner backstopped the Golden Knights to a 3-0 win, giving them a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven second-round series, with Game 4 set, on a short turnaround, for Sunday night.
Lehner, acquired at the trade deadline in a three-team deal including the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, stopped 26 shots for a 5-0 win in the series opener.
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Vancouver came out flying in the first period, outshooting Vegas 16-10 and enjoying a 78-second 5-on-3 power play. Lehner turned aside a wealth of high-quality scoring chances: point-blank one-timers, blasts off the transition, redirects, and loose pucks bouncing through the blue paint.
“We dug in and got some big saves from Robin. I thought he was our best player in the first 10 minutes,” said Vegas head coach Peter DeBoer.
“They did get some looks (all game) and when they did Robin was right on it. He didn’t leave any pucks laying around. There was no rebounds. He was swallowing up everything.”
Lehner said it was a group effort.
“I thought everyone did a great job of pitching in and working hard and blocking shots and doing all the right things,” he said.
“It was really important for the momentum of the game to try to get out ahead and not chase the game.
“They had a little bit of a push in the first period, but I thought we took over the game after that.”
While Lehner shut the door, Alex Tuch, with his seventh goal of the post-season, Mark Stone, and Zack Whitecloud scored for Vegas.
Jacob Markstrom, in his 13th start of the playoffs, made 31 saves for Vancouver.
Tuch scored first at 4:05 of the first period. Racing in full flight through the neutral zone, he split the defence, settled down a bouncing stretch pass from Nicolas Roy and delivered a rocket shot past Markstrom into the top corner.
Just 83 seconds later, it was 2-0 when Whitecloud pounced on a loose puck at the right face-off circle, fired it through traffic and in. Early in the third, Stone roofed a fluttering puck from the faceoff circle on the power play for a 3-0 advantage. It was his second goal of the series and sixth of the playoffs.
Vancouver forward J.T. Miller said coming up empty on the 5-on-3 was a difference maker.
“We executed about as well as we could, I think. Goalie made some nice saves,” said Miller. “Easily we could have tied the game or got back to close.”
The Canucks bounced back from the Game 1 shutout to beat Vegas 5-2 in Game 2. Vancouver forward Tanner Pearson said they need to return to that game plan.
“I think there were spurts of the game where we went a few minutes without a shot on net. That kind of changes the momentum a bit,” said Pearson.
He said they can’t overpass the puck: “You look at the game we won, we shoot a lot of pucks in and chased it that way and got on our forecheck and it worked out for us. When we’re down we’ve got to keep it simple and keep to our game and not try to force too much.”
The teams had not played since Tuesday. The NHL did not play its scheduled games Thursday or Friday after players in the Edmonton and Toronto playoff sites wanted to make a statement to highlight the issues of social injustice, systemic racism and police brutality.
NBA players triggered a series of postponed games across the sports world when the Milwaukee Bucks declined to play their playoff game against Orlando on Wednesday in the aftermath of the shooting by police of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin last weekend.
The Golden Knights can gain a 3-1 stranglehold on the series with a win Sunday.
For Vancouver, the concern will be Markstrom and puck fatigue. The 30-year-old Swede is expected to start Sunday, which will be his 14th game in 29 days and his third back-to-back contest. He has been the backbone of the Canucks’ playoff success but has regularly been facing more than 30 shots a night in the post-season.
His backup is Thatcher Demko. Demko has started just 34 games over his first three seasons and has not played in the playoffs except for some mop-up time in the third period in the 5-0 loss.
Vegas has experienced veteran Marc-Andre Fleury in reserve. Fleury has spelled off Lehner once in the round-robin series and again for one game in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks. DeBoer has said the plan is to play both.
All games are being played in front of empty seats at Rogers Place. The players are kept in isolation between contests to prevent the spread of COVID-19.