He was on his off-wing as he crossed over the offensive blue line in possession of the puck and made a quick move to the inside. Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot countered by wrapping his stick around him to pull him off before setting up a quality scoring chance. That’s when Lehkonen, in his desperation to get the puck to the net, left his feet and shot it to teammate Phillip Danault’s stick for the goal that should’ve put the Canadiens up 3-2 with 16:34 remaining in the third period.
The celebration ensued while the officials conferred at centre ice. And then Danault’s goal was waved off and Lehkonen was sent to the penalty box for a perceived dive, joining Chabot, who was called for hooking him down.
It was a sequence that could’ve undone the Canadiens in a game they ended up winning 5-2 when all was said and done. A call that their coach referred to afterwards as “a mistake.”
The call was booed mercilessly by the Bell Centre faithful — even still after five minutes had gone by. It was also a call that left Lehkonen cursing his way to the box. One that saw him blow a gasket while he watched it on replay on the scoreboard that hangs above centre ice.
“I was pretty pissed off about that,” Lehkonen said. “At that point, when the game was 2-2 at the time … at the time it was a pretty big call.”
Yes it was. It was a call that took away a goal at a pivotal juncture of the game, but also one that took away a point from a player who’s been hard-pressed to score them despite his best efforts at times this year.
T.J. Luxmore’s decision was made just over a minute after Lehkonen sent Jesperi Kotkaniemi down the ice for the goal that made it 2-2. And it was just under 10 minutes before Lehkonen started the play that Kotkaniemi sent over to Paul Byron for Montreal’s fourth goal of the game.
The game should have been out of reach for the Senators at that point and Lehkonen should have been cruising to his best offensive performance of the season.
That part doesn’t matter much to him. But it’s not insignificant.
“He’s a guy that maybe doesn’t get talked about enough when he’s not producing, but he always plays the right way,” said Canadiens captain Shea Weber, who scored the winning goal at 10:08 of the third period. “He always takes care of his own end, plays the defensive side of the puck really well and he’s never shying away from a hit. But if he’s not producing, people aren’t talking about him. Now that he is producing, he’s getting the credit that he deserves.”
Lehkonen’s attitude is commendable, too. He never really gets down on himself, no matter how much bad luck he encounters.
The 23-year-old kept his head up during an 18-game goal drought earlier this year. He was producing the third-most high-danger scoring chances on the Canadiens over that period — according to Naturalstattrick.com — and not converting. But he never let frustration overtake him. And his response to Saturday’s bit of misfortune was emblematic of the way the Canadiens responded to the adversity they faced in this game, too.
In the first period, just 20 seconds after Matthew Peca opened the scoring for Montreal, Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk knocked goaltender Carey Price off-balance and teammate Colin White put the puck in the net.
The Canadiens challenged the call for goaltender interference but the goal stood upon further review.
“I didn’t agree with that at all,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “Tkachuk pitchforked Price’s leg from behind while the puck was in the middle of the crease.”
The Canadiens who we spoke to after the game agreed. In the moment, they shook it off and began tilting the ice.
A goal from Mikkel Boedker, on one of three shots the Senators notched in the second period, didn’t slow them down either. They out-shot Ottawa 19-7 in the third period and 47-18 in the game and they scored three goals after being denied the one for Danault.
Lehkonen’s emotion — shown in reaction to the swift turn of events in the fourth minute of the period — helped push the Canadiens up a level.
“I liked his reaction,” said Julien. “I even saw him talking to the referee and couldn’t believe the referee was calling it a dive. I think his reaction spoke a lot to me anyway. And he went out there and instead of carrying that frustration in the wrong direction, he brought it in the right direction …
“Good for him and good for the rest of the team. I thought they reacted real well to that frustration, and they saw that the crowd was behind us and we went out there and found a way to score some more goals.”
In doing so, the Canadiens helped Julien notch the 600th win of his NHL coaching career. It was their sixth win over their last eight games, their third over the Senators in the last 12 days, and Lehkonen scored Points 18 and 19 of his season in the contest.
Twenty in 33 games has a better ring to it, but the young Finn isn’t complaining. Heck, it was like pulling teeth trying to get him to discuss the call that sent him over the edge.