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Redemption song: Music played role in Lehner's off-ice recovery and on-ice resurgence

New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner has authored one of the most remarkable stories in the NHL this season, from publicly sharing his issues with mental health and substance abuse to his stunning emergence as a Vezina Trophy candidate.

LONG ISLAND — It has been nothing short of a remarkable season for New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner. The big Swedish netminder already has the Jennings Trophy (shared with battery mate Thomas Greiss) and he is also a pretty strong candidate to win the Masterton, based on his play and his battle with the inner demons that plagued his past.

At the beginning of the season, Lehner made public his struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, which also led to suicidal thoughts. Coming to Long Island from Buffalo enabled Lehner to get a fresh start and he has spent most of the year putting himself in a position to succeed off the ice. This was very important when the free-agent Lehner had his initial meetings with GM Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz and the goaltender has not let anyone down -- most importantly, himself.

“He wanted to resurrect his career and he was prepared to do what was necessary,” Lamoriello said. “And he needed support to do it. He gave me the comfortability of trust and belief. These are difficult things. In my past experience (with other players), it’s difficult to overcome, there are bumps.”

One of the ways Lehner has coped is through music. A longtime fan of the Swedish metal band In Flames, Lehner has often adorned his mask with imagery inspired by the Gothenburg group. “They’re from my hometown and my mom grew up with one of the guys,” Lehner said. “I know a few of them personally and they’re good people. Their music has meant a lot to me and I’ve listened to them throughout my career.”

The band, whose lyrics have also covered heavy personal themes, seems suited for a man coming to terms with his mental well-being. “I tend to go with stuff that means something to me, that connects,” Lehner said. “They’ve seen some of the same struggles as me.”

Not limited to metal, Lehner says he enjoys all kinds of music genres, with favorites coming from both Sweden and the U.S. He’s also a big fan of Philadelphia rapper Vinnie Paz, whose projects include the group Jedi Mind Tricks. “He also struggled with mental illness,” Lehner said. “He has great stuff, from bottom to top.”

While the Islanders may have taken a chance on Lehner, it looks like a perfect fit was found. Lehner helped New York sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs and his .930 save percentage in the regular season ranked second to Dallas’ Ben Bishop among goalies who played at least 30 games.

Now onto the second round, Lehner is still flourishing with the Islanders and if he can stay on the right path, he will have earned something much more important that playoff wins. Considering where he has come from, it would be quite remarkable.

Interestingly enough, the latest In Flames record is entitled “I, The Mask.” Given Lehner’s fandom and profession, it feels pretty on the nose -- though he insists it has nothing to do with him. Nonetheless, if anyone is worthy of such a tribute right now, it would be Lehner.

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