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Penguins’ skaters need to be the story for Pittsburgh to win Game 3

Harrison Mooney
Puck Daddy

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If the Pittsburgh Penguins are relying on their goaltending, the Pittsburgh Penguins are losing.

It's as simple as that. So don't expect Tomas Vokoun, the netminder to whom Dan Bylsma will be returning for Wednesday's all-important Game 3, to win this one single-handedly. That's not how this team works. That's not how they're built.

Granted, Vokoun is the right choice for Game 3. Marc-Andre Fleury's biggest accomplishment in his Game 2 cameo appearance was stepping into a contest that was already close to gone, his team was trailing 3-0, and still managing to surrender two demoralizing goals. That's tough to do. So you go with Vokoun, because he appears less likely to cost you the game.

But he's not going to win it for you.

He shouldn't have to, anyway. This is a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, Kris Letang, James Neal, and Chris Kunitz. Through two games, this pantheon of Penguins has a combined zero points. The Penguins have been outscored 9-1, and with their firepower, they should be far more alarmed by the number after the hyphen than before it.

The nine is alarming too, of course.

The whole group has been abysmal defensively. If everything you knew about hockey came from highlight packages of the Eastern Conference Final, Tomas Vokoun might be the only Penguin you'd know. On all but one of the 10 goals scored in this series, the goalie's been the only Penguin in the shot.

Vokoun is a supporting player, at best. But he's been thrust into a starring role because the rest of the Pittsburgh cast has disappeared. When the Penguins are at their best, the puck spends most of the night 200 feet away from their goaltender, and Sidney Crosby gets most of the attention because he's in terrifying proximity to the opposition net.

That's not how this series has gone, and that's what needs to change if the Penguins want to make a series of the Eastern Conference Final.

Dan Bylsma touched on this in a pregame discussion of winning the match-up game.

"A lot of that's dictated by us being able to play in the offensive zone," he said. I've already said today that we haven't really done a lot of playing in the offensive zone, so it's been more to the match-up liking for their team, whether that's home or on the road. If we can do a better job of playing the offensive zone and making those players play in those positions and then what shifts after get match-ups to our liking, that's what we'll try to do and try to do on the road when they have the match-up after the whistle."

But it's more than just matchups. It's about relieving the burden on Tomas Vokoun by playing more of the game on the side of the ice he's not allowed to visit. Dan Bylsma knows this too.

"We don't need perfection," Dan Bylsma said when announcing Vokoun's start.

It's true. Not even close.

What they need is the skaters in front of Vokoun to be present -- present enough that, by the end of Game 3, nobody's talking about which goalie will be starting Game 4.

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