Cool Vokoun stands tall, calms storm for Penguins in Game 5 victory
Long before Tyler Kennedy started the scoring and Sidney Crosby brought down the house with one of the great goals of his career, there was Tomas Vokoun.
Coach Dan Bylsma's decision to insert the veteran in place of struggling starter Marc-Andre Fleury was justified early and often as Vokoun offered a cool hand in the Penguins' 4-0 victory against the New York Islanders in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Consol Energy Center.
Vokoun stopped all 31 shots he faced, including a couple of spectacular efforts against Islanders star John Tavares.
“He was really good all game,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “Key saves in key moments. He was really calm in net. He gave us confidence.”
It marks the second shutout of Vokoun's playoff career and his second against the Islanders this season.
Vokoun and Fleury are the first goalie tandem to record shutouts in a series since Billy Smith and Glenn “Chico” Resch pulled it off in 1979. Also, this marks the first time in Penguins history that the team has recorded multiple shutouts in the same series.
The Penguins did not endure as many defensive breakdowns as in Games 2-4, but to suggest their goaltender was a nonfactor in this victory isn't accurate.
New York outshot the Penguins, 14-7, in the opening period, controlling play throughout. Vokoun, who acknowledged he would be nervous in the early going, looked the part by juggling a couple of rebounds.
However, he eventually found his form.
“He was particularly good in the first period and early in the second with big stops,” Bylsma said. “They had some good opportunities to score in the first.”
Before the contest, Vokoun admitted his desire to participate in the playoffs for the first time in six years would supersede any nerves.
He said the nerves never went away, even if the Islanders never found the back of his net.
“It obviously feels good,” Vokoun said. “I was a little bit nervous the whole day, to be honest. You wouldn't be human if you weren't. It was hard to remember what to expect. I got a couple of fortunate bounces.”
His best save of the first period came against former Penguins forward Colin McDonald, who took advantage of defenseman Douglas Murray's tripping inside the Penguins' blue line, setting up a two-on-one.
Vokoun didn't have to make as many saves in the second period but made a couple of brilliant ones on Tavares.
“He was great all game,” Kennedy said.
He stood tall in the third despite a barrage of Islanders shots midway through the period.
His teammates said before the game that Vokoun was more than capable of thriving in such a pressure-filled game.
They were right.
“Just got the job done all night,” Letang said. “We didn't play our best early in the game, and he was there every time.”
Vokoun was no stranger to success against the Islanders in the regular season. He started three of the Penguins' five games against them during the season, posting a perfect record and a 0.90 goals-against average.
Vokoun admitted he felt bad about Fleury's situation, knowing the fickle existence of a goaltender. But he also made something clear.
“I have a job to do,” he said.
One that figures to continue in Game 6.