Tomas Vokoun should feel pretty comfortable by now. He has pulled the Penguins out of a first-round mess against the New York Islanders and played a vital role in their dominance of the Ottawa Senators.
The Penguins are his team, right?
Vokoun would have you believe otherwise. The veteran is enjoying his role as starting goaltender during the Stanley Cup playoffs and almost assuredly will start Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final. But he takes nothing for granted.
“I always feel like it's a tryout,” he said.
It's been quite the tryout.
Vokoun is 6-1 in seven playoff games, rescuing the Penguins after goalie Marc-Andre Fleury — and the defense in front of him — played a dangerously loose style of hockey against the Islanders that put their Stanley Cup hopes in jeopardy.
His consistency has been just what the Penguins needed. The team that is scoring 4.27 goals per game during the postseason doesn't require superb goaltending, but rather needs a steady hand that will keep it in every game.
Vokoun has done just that, allowing no more than three goals in any of his seven starts. He has recorded one shutout, a one-goal game, a couple of two-goal games and a trio of three-goal games.
Vokoun's 1.85 goals against average and .941 save percentage rank among the NHL's best numbers this spring. Still, he doesn't suggest that the job is officially his.
“I don't look at it any different than I (did) before the first game,” he said. “Once you stumble, you never know what's going to happen. It doesn't matter. I'm part of the team, and we're here to win, so whoever's in net and whatever's going on, as long as we're winning, that's the most important thing.
“Obviously, you feel good about winning and helping the team win. But as far as the future, we'll see.”
Vokoun is taking the modest approach, and his teammates still hold Fleury in high regard. But the Penguins aren't afraid to acknowledge that Vokoun's calm influence is something they required following the poor start against the Islanders.
“He's been really, really good,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He's been that stable force back there that gives us a chance every night. He's making all the big saves right now.”
Vokoun's calming personality, Niskanen said, is almost as important as the big saves.
“That's just kind of the way he is, so calm,” Niskanen said. “Everything about him is calm. He's a good veteran to have in obviously an important division. When you see him and how he handles himself, it just rubs off on everyone.”
Vokoun entered these playoffs with a 3-8 career postseason record.
He's already doubled that win total and shows no signs of slowing down. Vokoun said he feels strong physically and, despite the workload, hasn't missed one off-ice workout.
“He's just been so strong,” defenseman Douglas Murray said.
Vokoun said that, despite the wild past few weeks, he takes a few moments to smell the roses of these playoffs.
“Quite a bit,” he said with a smile.
And then he turns serious again when speaking of the playoff games that remain.
“For me,” he said, “there's nothing set in stone here. I play every game like it could be my last.”
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