Updated June 21, 2021 - 10:37 am
For as much turbulence as it caused across the internet early Sunday — a negative backlash more and more palpable with each ensuing tweet — things were pretty uncomplicated for Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer.
“My only responsibility is to the men in that room and making sure that I’m making the right decisions in order to give them the best chance to win,” DeBoer said. “That’s the only factor that goes into that mix when I’m making those calls. There is no other agenda.
“Our players know that and they can live with bad news.”
The most significant of those choices brought his team only good news.
DeBoer started Robin Lehner in net over Marc-Andre Fleury and the Knights regained home ice advantage in this Stanley Cup semifinal, beating Montreal 2-1 in overtime at Bell Centre.
The best-of-seven series is tied 2-2 and returns to T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night for Game 5.
It’s now a best-of-three. Colorado all over again. Hold on tight.
A fresh goalie
Coaching is as much feel as facts. As much instinct as numbers. DeBoer believed a fresh Lehner was the better option. Score one for a well-timed hunch.
Lehner played for the first time in 21 days and just the second in 42. The last time he won a game was May 7 against St. Louis. The last time he was in net, he allowed seven goals to Colorado in Game 1 of the previous series.
But errors by Fleury in Games 2 and 3 that led to Montreal scores — and eventual victories — put him in a vulnerable position as the starter. DeBoer denied such miscues played a part in the switch, instead pointing to Fleury’s heavy workload during these playoffs.
None of it matters now. The Knights won Sunday because Lehner was their best player.
He would stop 27 of 28 shots, the most significant against Montreal rookie Cole Caufield, whose third-period breakaway with his team leading 1-0 was stifled by Lehner.
Caufield tried going five-hole instead of up high. Bad decision.
Also, never diminish the importance of this: As he sat and watched Fleury play game after game, Lehner was a constant source of positivity. The last thing a team chasing the Stanley Cup needs is friction within the room. There was none.
“I think a lot has to be said about Robin’s attitude this whole time,” said Knights forward Max Pacioretty. “He has been the No. 1 cheerleader on this team when he wasn’t playing. For him to go in there and be the player we know he is was huge for our team.”
Few athletes wear their heart on their sleeve like Lehner, who has been incredibly open about his personal travels toward better mental health. He has become a prominent face among professional athletes in helping to combat stigmas. He also apparently reads a lot.
Making sense of social media — particularly in regard to sports — is a more useless exercise than expecting the 5-year-old not to want those presents come Christmas morning. Total waste of time. People have a right to their opinion, however ignorant. We’ll leave that there.
But things across the Web got ugly in spots Sunday. What did you expect when a fan-favorite like Fleury is replaced? The threads were endless.
“I come to the game four hours early and sat for two hours and watch you guys talk (bleep) about me on Twitter,” Lehner said. “It was great. People act like that I’m not very good, especially in our own town. (Fleury) and I have gotten really close this year, supporting each other. We don’t care about the noise. It’s just great motivation for me.”
The Knights will gladly support any such incentive if it means Lehner turning in this kind of performance.
Inspiration comes from all corners of the gamut. The key is to take advantage of it.
Lehner did Sunday. In the most impressive of ways. At the most critical of times.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.