Goalie switch helps calm Ottawa's nerves

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Just three minutes into Robin Lehner's first career playoff appearance, the 21-year-old goalie had James Neal and Jarome Iginla bearing down on him with a lone defenseman between them.

Neal slid the puck across the ice to Iginla, and Lehner threw his body back in that director. Improbably, Iginla's shot struck the goalie's left leg and stayed out of the net.

Lehner came on Friday night in relief of Ottawa starter Craig Anderson.

Senators coach Paul MacLean made the switch 1:15 into the second period, after Sidney Crosby completed his hat trick to put the Penguins up 3-1.

"It happened very fast," Lehner said. "Usually, you see the coach start asking around. I wasn't really ready. Everyone was throwing their hats, then, all of a sudden, I saw [a coach] by my face and he said 'Go in.'

"You just kind of boost your adrenaline a little bit and go try to do your job."

MacLean said he made the move not as an reaction to Anderson's play, but a way to change the tone of a game that wasn't over, even though the Penguins dominated play most of the early going.

"That was more for the team," MacLean said. "It had nothing to do with the way [Anderson] had played. It was just trying to get the team to recognize the fact that we were in the game."

Lehner said he wasn't nervous while making his first career postseason appearance, but admitted he needed to settle down a little bit once he got on the ice.

"It's not nerves, it's more adrenaline," he said. "It's more your legs start shaking. It's not because I'm nervous, it's because I get so jacked up with so much adrenaline, so you've got to take some deep breaths, calm the adrenaline down a little bit."

Lehner finished with 20 saves on 21 shots, including several stops on Penguins right at his doorstep. He gave up one goal, on a deflection from Brenden Morrow 8:04 into the second period, but settled down after that and allowed the Senators to pull within a goal by the end of the game.

MacLean assessed Lehner's performance as "fine."

Anderson said he understood why his coach made the change and, even though the Senators didn't complete their comeback, thought it accomplished its goal.

"I think the tone of the game changed, and we started to play a lot better," Anderson said. "Whether that was a wake-up call for everybody, I don't know, but there's several ways to change momentum in a game. You can call timeout, you can pull the goalie, you can do a lot of things. Tonight, it was changing the goalie."

Now, the Senators have to turn around for Game 3 Sunday while facing a 2-0 deficit and knowing that another loss would be catastrophic to their playoff chances. Not that he enjoyed getting pulled, but Anderson said the move gave him a "mental break" and that he was ready to move forward in the series.

Lehner had no illusions that even a strong showing Friday would cause MacLean to rethink his starting goaltender. Anderson has been spectacular at times for the Senators this year, posting a 1.69 goals-against average in 24 regular-season starts, and leading Ottawa past Montreal in the first round.

"I'm the backup right now, and Craig is awesome," Lehner said. "He's the guy, he's holding the fort for the whole season. My job right now is just trying to stay ready when the opportunity comes."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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