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Vokoun replacing Fleury in Game 5 for Penguins

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 1:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun will start Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final series against the Boston Bruins.

Tomas Vokoun already saved the Penguins once this season.

He has been summoned again.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma disregarded a policy of not discussing lineups or injuries during the Stanley Cup playoffs by announcing that Vokoun will replace longtime starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury on Thursday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the New York Islanders.

“We think Tomas can be a great goaltender for us,” Bylsma said.

Vokoun already has been a great motivational speaker for the Penguins. While the Penguins were in a midseason funk and allowing goals in bushels — sound familiar? — Vokoun lit into his teammates March 7 in Philadelphia. The Penguins tightened up defensively almost immediately, triggering their 15-game winning streak.

Bylsma is hoping Vokoun can produce more magic for the Penguins on the ice, and if his presence leads to more reliable play, even better.

“We brought Tomas in to play big games for us,” Bylsma said. “He's done that this year for us.”

Few NHL goalies have played in more big games than Fleury, who at 28 has played in 68 more playoff games than the 36-year-old Vokoun.

Fleury's recent playoff performances, though, left Bylsma little choice but to remove the goaltender who led the Penguins to a victory in the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit in 2009. Since then, Fleury is 14-16 in the playoffs. His save percentage in the postseason has plummeted below .900 in each of his past four postseasons.

Fleury has allowed 40 goals in his past 10 playoff games.

Bylsma told Fleury that Vokoun would start Game 5. The coach, otherwise, refused to describe the meeting.

“Not a conversation I'm going to discuss with you,” Bylsma said. “But I did talk with Marc.”

The Penguins secured Vokoun's services last summer for a situation like this. Fleury melted down — his team did, too — against the Flyers in last season's first round, allowing 26 goals in six games. This series started differently, as Fleury blanked the Islanders in Game 1. Since then, however, Fleury has allowed 14 goals in three games, many imminently stoppable.

Two goals — Kyle Okposo's game-tying goal that Fleury kicked in late in the second period of Game 4 along with Casey Cizikas' late goal that ended with Fleury sitting in his own net — appeared to spell his doom.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby voiced support for Fleury, just as he did when backup Brent Johnson was outplaying Fleury early in the 2010-11 season.

“Our confidence (in Fleury) is there,” Crosby said. “Obviously, we know it was a tough night. I think we've all had tough nights. For us, when we have a tough one, it's not quite as obvious as when a goalie has had a tough one. He's won a Stanley Cup. He's got a ton of experience. He's shown numerous times he can bounce back. We're confident in him for sure.”

Bylsma, in uncharacteristic fashion, announced 30 minutes later that Vokoun would start.

Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero decided before the playoffs that they would not comment publicly about injuries or lineups.

Game 5 likely represents the biggest game on Pittsburgh ice since Game 6 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final simply because, if this team — a heavy Stanley Cup favorite — loses a fourth consecutive playoff series, a dismantling of the roster and coaching staff could be in play.

The heroes that night against the Red Wings were Fleury, Jordan Staal (now in Carolina), Tyler Kennedy (a healthy scratch all series) and Rob Scuderi (now in Los Angeles).

Now, Vokoun, who is 3-8 in 11 career playoff games, will attempt to carve out his spot in Penguins history. He is 3-0 against the Islanders this season with a 0.90 GAA and a .970 save percentage. Vokoun went 13-4-0 this season, and his save percentage of .919 was slightly better than Fleury's .916.

“We are confident in both of our goalies,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said. “Both guys played really well for us. It's obviously not our call.”

It's Bylsma's.

“We're getting a guy who is real capable,” Bylsma said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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