Moments after the Golden Knights eliminated the Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, Vegas’ Robin Lehner was hugging the Chicago players one by one in an emotional postgame handshake line.
Lehner made 23 saves in the 4-3 win on Tuesday night, which gave Vegas a 4-1 series victory.
Chicago had signed Lehner to a one-year contract as a free agent last summer and then sent him to the Golden Knights in a stunning, trade-deadline deal.
“I made some good friends there,” Lehner said of the Blackhawks earlier in the series. “Great group of guys in the locker room.”
After Game 5, Lehner showed his admiration, and the Blackhawks reciprocated.
Lehner hugged each player, wrapping his hand around the back of their helmets, and said some words to them. Some conversations were short; others, like the one he had with rookie Kirby Dach, were longer.
“This was a huge win for our team, and this felt good for me to close out,” Lehner said. “It’s weird playing your old team. I have a lot of friends over there.”
His coach, Pete DeBoer, was walking behind the goalie as he embraced all the Blackhawks players.
“Some of the comments to him were really filled with respect and admiration for his journey and where he’s going and what he’s been through,” DeBoer said.
Lehner has been candid about having suffered with depression and substance abuse before seeking help from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association’s joint Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program in 2018.
“You can tell when an ex-teammate is talking to guys he played with, whether it’s genuine or not,” DeBoer said. “And this was genuine across the board there. So he made a real impression on those guys even though he was there for less than a year.”
While Lehner played only 33 games with Chicago, he made “an impact.”
“He didn’t take very long to have an impact on our locker room. He’s a big personality. The guys liked him a lot, and he played great hockey for us,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “He had a lot of influence on everyone, especially our leadership group, and won a lot of games for us.”