Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Blackhawks were trending up, with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games.
Goalie Robin Lehner, as he has been all season, was a crucial part of that surge. But he also somehow managed to keep one eye on the Islanders, who were on an incredible 15-0-1 run at the time.
‘‘I’ve watched a bunch of their games,’’ Lehner said Nov. 22. ‘‘It’s a great system, and everyone’s bought in. I’m happy to see their success because it’s a tremendous group and a lot of really good guys. They deserve everything they’re getting.’’
Lehner’s 2018-19 season with the Islanders — his lone year with the franchise — was a tremendous success on the ice.
But Lehner made even more of an impact with his openness about mental-health struggles and substance abuse, his honesty about all things in life and his quirky yet infectious personality, which struck a chord with his teammates and the Islanders’ fan base.
So Lehner’s praise of the Islanders while playing for another NHL team blew up on Twitter, with Islanders fans across the social-media universe sharing stories about how their admiration for Lehner has lasted beyond his tenure with the team.
‘‘He will always be a forever Islander,’’ one fan said.
To some extent, Lehner agreed.
‘‘Islanders fans are very special,’’ he said Friday. ‘‘You can see it with the whole group, with the whole team. It’s a little bit more intimate relationship than with other teams, it feels like sometimes. They supported me from day one, that’s the biggest thing.’’
Lehner largely has had the same impact with the Hawks a half-season into his time in Chicago. His honesty and quirkiness have carved out a niche for him in the locker room and made him an instant fan favorite. He also has been great on the ice, with a 3-0 record and .944 save percentage in his last three starts. His save percentage for the season is .925.
And his admitted appreciation of his former team clearly didn’t compromise his performance Friday. His 38-save effort in the Hawks’ 5-2 victory against the Islanders represented one of his best nights of the season.
That’s unlikely to burn any bridges with the Islanders, though.
‘‘As a friend and teammate, you want the best thing for him,’’ Islanders captain Anders Lee said. ‘‘Selfishly, we all wanted him back. But it’s great to see how well he’s done here and how well he’s made an impact . . . in the community here. I can see how well-accepted he is.’’
Lehner has kept in touch with a number of Islanders players. He tweeted at Lee, Johnny Boychuk and Scott Mayfield with some lighthearted Christmas trash talk, and even stoic Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he plans to text Lehner when he hits milestones as his career progresses.
While Lehner had some words for Islanders forward Ross Johnston after a snow shower in the second period, he said after the game there wasn’t too much chirping on the ice.
‘‘They’re gentlemen over there; they’re a professional team,’’ he said. ‘‘It was fun playing them.’’
Lehner and the Islanders always will have the memories of their season together, just as he eventually will with the Hawks after his tenure with them concludes.
‘‘We learned a lot from him,’’ Lee said. ‘‘[We] saw how he was after he’d gone through a lot of things and how he’d risen out of that and how he performed on the ice. It was an all-around great year to be his teammate and be his friend.’’