EDMONTON — Vegas Golden Knight Robin Lehner buried the Vancouver Canucks Sunday then laid to rest a Twitter controversy surrounding him and fellow goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Lehner stopped 26 shots to lead the Golden Knights to a 5-0 win, giving Vegas a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven second-round NHL series.
It was the first career playoff shutout for the well-travelled 29-year-old Swede, who is now on his fifth NHL team.
"I thought we played a helluva game, a real good team game," said Lehner.
"Everyone was working hard, blocking shots, backchecking, all the small things. It was nice to come out strong and start the series strong."
Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch, Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty did the scoring, chasing Vancouver starter Jacob Markstrom from the net midway through the final period.
Markstrom, making his 11th consecutive playoff start, stopped 29-of-34 shots and was yanked for Thatcher Demko after allowing the fifth goal.
The Canucks had just a tiny handful of dangerous scoring chances. It's the first time they have been shut out since losing 3-0 to the Minnesota Wild in the first game of their qualifying series.
The score was an accurate reflection of the game, with the Golden Knights dominating on the forecheck, pounding and harassing young Canuck defenders Quinn Hughes and Troy Stecher. When Vancouver agitator Antoine Roussel tried to harass Lehner, Golden Knight heavyweight Ryan Reaves was there to push back. Markstrom faced a barrage of high-percentage shots.
"We limited chances and we were holding pucks in the O-zone, and honestly we (managed to) grind them out. It was a good 60 minutes," said Marchessault.
Game 2 goes Tuesday at Rogers Place.
Vancouver coach Travis Green graded it their worst game of the playoffs, but said they can learn from it and get better.
"They've got a quick team," said Green.
"That might have been part of it. Maybe their speed caught some of our players by surprise a little bit, where they turned over some pucks. But I definitely think we should have been better with the puck, and we've got to play a lot better if we're going to win this series."
Lehner is 9-1 since being acquired at the trade deadline in a three-team deal including the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks, and appears to have displaced Marc-Andre Fleury as the starter.
Lehner is getting the lion's share of the work in the playoffs. Sunday was his seventh start compared with two for Fleury, who has been the face of the young franchise and backstopped them to the Stanley Cup final in 2018.
Fleury's agent, Allan Walsh, appeared on Saturday to take issue with head coach Peter DeBoer's goaltending decisions, tweeting a meme of Fleury on the ice in his Knights' gear getting impaled through the torso from the back by a broadsword that bore DeBoer's name.
Fleury addressed the controversy on a Zoom call with reporters before the game.
He said he is very tight with Walsh, and asked him to take the tweet down so it doesn't become a distraction. Walsh did so earlier Sunday.
"He (Walsh) was just trying to protect me a bit," said Fleury.
"We all want to win right? That's why we're here.
"I don't want to be any distraction for my team."
Fleury was asked twice if he knew ahead of time Walsh was going to post the picture.
He declined to answer both times.
Lehner said he and Fleury laughed off the controversy — literally.
"It's always the media and everyone else who make a big deal out of this," he said.
"Me and Marc we get along great.
"When this happened I saw Marc and we were just laughing.
"At the end of the day he didn't do anything. It was his agent and if (Walsh) wants to be unprofessional, go ahead. He looks terrible."
DeBoer dismissed the meme issue, labelling it, "Outside noise that is not going to play any part of what we're doing here."
All Western Conference games are being played at Rogers Place, with no fans in the stands and players isolating between contests to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Golden Knights, the top Western Conference seed, are continuing the torrid play that saw them go 11-2 before the NHL shut down the regular season on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the return to play tournament, Vegas won all three round-robin seeding games and then dispatched the Blackhawks 4-1.
Vancouver advanced to the second round by beating the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 23, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press