They say “two points is two points,” but some wins are simply more special than others.
This one surely meant a tonne to Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner, who posted a 35-save shutout in his first regular season game with his new club on Monday — making a little bit of franchise history in the process as he became the first Isles goalie to ever pitch a shutout in his team debut.
To say the performance was a relief after the hardships he’s endured over the past decade, and especially the last few months, would be understating it more than a just a little.
With his career seemingly hanging by a thread and seeing limited suitors for his services as a free-agent this past summer, Lehner signed a modest one-year, $1.5-million deal with the Isles in July after three tumultuous seasons in Buffalo. The 27-year-old revealed in a powerful article by The Athletic in September some of the demons threatening to end his career, and his life.
Five weeks after checking himself into a rehabilitation centre for alcohol and drug addiction issues, Lehner was diagnosed with bipolar 1 with manic phases, which had likely gone untreated for years.
In the piece, the eight-year NHL veteran described one contest in particular — his last ever in a Sabres uniform — which sent him on the path to finally seeking help after suffering a severe panic attack during the second period of a game against the Red Wings last March.
Lehner described a heavy pain in his chest and the progression of blurry vision as the game went on. He said he reached a point where he not only wanted but needed the period to end.
“When zero finally hit, I walked back and sat in the trainer’s room,” Lehner wrote. “I could barely get my gear off. I broke down. I was having a major, full-blown panic attack. I thought I was suffering a heart attack. I had no idea what was happening. I could not go back on the ice.”
The Islanders netminder also revealed and detailed suicidal thoughts which were almost turned into action on numerous occasions, and a dependency on drugs and alcohol which further sent his life into a tailspin.
“This dark place is full of self-medication and thoughts of suicide. The phone call I made to Andrew (his goalie coach) the night before? I was drunk. I wanted to kill myself. I was extremely close multiple times. The battle playing hockey was nothing compared to the battle inside my brain. It was at its worst,” he described.
The Sabres decided to send Lehner home after the game and things continued to spiral out of control as his heavy drinking and drug use progressed until he eventually agreed to get help and head to rehab. A couple weeks after a 20-plus-day detox, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lehner admitted that he could feel the ups and downs of bipolar disorder affecting his day-to-day play as an NHL goaltender.
“I had never had a sober season of hockey my entire career,” Lehner wrote. “With those manic swings, I could see the pattern.
“When I was hypomanic and in a good mood, I was a solid goalie. The depressive state, not so much,” he wrote.
Lehner added that his frequent suicidal thoughts have all but disappeared and, from the outside, at least, he seems genuinely excited to be back in the crease. His time with the Sabres ended on a rough note, but the New York Islanders stepped up when the free-agent needed one more opportunity to redeem his career.