As Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma said in announcing Tomas Vokoun as the starter for Game 5 on Thursday night, they acquired him to play in situations like this.
There are none bigger than when a No. 1 seed is in trouble and its No. 1 goalie is a significant reason for that trouble. Marc-Andre Fleury has been good at times, shaky at others and downright bad in the Penguins’ Game 4 loss to the New York Islanders, knotting the series at 2-2.
He’s given up 40 goals in his last 10 playoff games.
Loyalty be damned, Bylsma had to make this change.
“We brought Tomas Vokoun in to play big games for us. Be a goaltender we can count on. He’s done that for us and he’s been very good against the Islanders,” Bylsma said, via the Penguins. “We’re getting a guy who’s a real capable guy going in and being a good goalie for us.”
Vokoun was better than very good against the Isles: He was nearly flawless. In the regular season, he went 3-0-0 against New York and stopped 98 shots of 101 he faced – a .970 save percentage.
But that’s the regular season, and that’s the hesitancy in playing Vokoun here: He has 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games to his credit, all with the Nashville Predators in 2003-04 and 2006-07. The stakes, and the pressure, are slightly amplified as he gets the start for Pittsburgh.
This is Bylsma’s moment here as much as it’s Vokoun’s. The Penguins are extraordinarily heavy favorites in the Eastern Conference. Yes, Fleury’s been a liability, but he also has significantly more experience than Vokoun in these situations. A Game 5 loss would likely mean Fleury’s back for Game 6, but it would still be a Game 5 whose starting goaltender Bylsma selected.
If Vokoun should win Game 5 … well, like we said, the significance of this decision can’t be ignored. A franchise, Cup-winning goalie is sitting in a critical game in favor of a hired gun. The ramifications go far beyond the next three potential games against the Islanders.
But again, that’s why he’s in Pittsburgh: Because the Penguins couldn’t turn the team over to Brent Johnson after Fleury gave up seven goals in Game 2 against the Flyers last postseason. But they can turn to Vokoun after Fleury gave up six in Game 4.