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Hey, Penguins: Tomas Vokoun has earned the right to start Game 2 vs. Bruins

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The first goal Tomas Vokoun surrendered in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday night deflected off of his Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Paul Martin through his five hole, after the Pens left the Bruins’ leading scorer David Krejci unmarked in the slot.

The second goal Vokoun gave up was on a Krecji blast from point blank range; a shot he saved but one that produced a sky-high rebound that the Bruins player tucked home.

The third goal Vokoun gave up was a layup for Nathan Horton, capping the 3-0 Bruins win. If you were to pin that loss on Vokoun, you’d swear he kicked the puck to an open Bruins player. If you sympathize with Vokoun in Game 1, you might argue that the blame on this one goes to the five black sweaters to his left, leaving Horton wide open.

Was Vokoun good in Game 1? Absolutely not. Was he average? We’d say below it. As former NHL goaltender and TSN analyst Jamie McLennan wrote, Vokoun “looked uncomfortable and shaky all game long. He also had some issues again with post plays and shots/plays in his feet.”

There are reasons for concern after one game, for Vokoun and for the Penguins. But are they enough to sit Vokoun in Game 2?

No, they’re not. Consider what he’s done to start Game 1 of the conference final. And then consider the alternative.

Again, Vokoun wasn’t good. He has been against Boston, going 2-0 this season with a 1.50 GAA. But he wasn’t in Game 1.

Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma dodged a question about Vokoun for Game 2?

Q. This is the first time you have been down. Any concern about going down 1-0? I know you probably won't answer this, but are you going to stick with Vokoun?

COACH BYLSMA: You're correct. It's a situation we haven't been in yet, going down in a series, going down 1-0. You know, we're going to have to put away Game 1, they won that, they got the first win. We're going to have to come back with better focus to our game, more patience to how we play. Rebound with the home game we have here coming up here in Game 2.

This could just be standard operating procedure for the Penguins, or it could indicate that Bylsma’s considering a change. If it’s the latter, that’s frustrating, given the litany of problems the Penguins had in Game 1. But just like coaches get fired for their ineptitude of the players on their bench, goalies get benched for the ineptitude of the players in front of them on the ice.

That’s not what happened with Marc-Andre Fleury, mind you. He earned the pine in the first round, giving up 14 goals in three games. That was after a sieve-tastic performance against the Philadelphia Flyers last postseason.

The players’ and coaches’ confidence in him had eroded. Had the switch to Vokoun not been made, we’d all be talking about how John Tavares looked in Game 1 of the conference finals instead. As Ray Shero said before the Bruins series:

“Without having a Tomas Vokoun to go to in Game 5 in the Islanders series, I'm not sure what happens, I'm not sure we don't win, but I'm not sure we do. But again, that takes the pressure off Marc-André for that point in time, and Marc's game is back right now through his practice and so forth, but Tomas has done a very good job for us.”

That he had, at least before Game 1 against the Bruins. And that’s the point: Vokoun has earned the start in Game 2 on Monday night. The greatest save he’s made for the Penguins was salvaging their confidence that their goaltending wouldn’t be a liability; that Vokoun’s solid but not spectacular netminding could be enough to win in the playoffs.

Who knows what this time off for Fleury, whose last game was May 7, would do for his game. Maybe Shero’s right and the player that looks calm and collected in practice is the same one that would take the ice for the Penguins against the Bruins.

But Game 2 isn’t the time to find out. Going back to Vokoun might be the safe play, but it’s also the smart play. Flipping to Fleury would just underscore what the Bruins already believe: That they’re in the process of unraveling the Penguins’ psyche.

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