Dan Bylsma delivered the news that most were expecting on Wednesday afternoon, as the Pittsburgh Penguins coach announced that Tomas Vokoun would get the start in goal against the New York Islanders in Thursday’s Game 5.
After Marc-Andre Fleury surrendered 13 goals in Games 2-4, the Penguins will turn to the 36-year-old Vokoun, who presumably signed a two-year contract with Pittsburgh last summer for a precarious situation such as this. Vokoun, who last participated in a playoff game in 2007 as a member of the Nashville Predators, played in 20 games this season for the Penguins.
Vokoun has a .919 save percentage in 2013, right in line with the numbers he’s put up in his 15-year NHL career. He’s got a .922 save percentage in 11 Stanley Cup playoff games, all with Nashville. This will be the first Penguins postseason start by a goalie other than Fleury since Johan Hedberg suited up in Game 5 of the 2001 Eastern Conference final against New Jersey.
Despite Vokoun’s lack of recent postseason action, this is a move that makes sense after the Islanders victimized a clearly off-his-game Fleury in Tuesday’s series-tying win. The Penguins, while certainly not airtight, still played well enough to win in Game 4 if not for at least three questionable goals that got by Fleury.
Fleury, 28, recently had his first child with wife Veronique and seemed to be playing well in advance of the playoffs. He backstopped the Penguins to a comprehensive 5-0 win in Game 1, but let in two leaky goals in New York’s 4-3 Game 2 victory, then had a so-so Game 3 on Long Island as Pittsburgh survived for an overtime triumph.
Game 4 was seemingly enough for Bylsma and the Penguins’ hockey operations staff to look to Vokoun for some stability. Perhaps the hope is that a drastic change like this will jolt the No. 1-seeded team in the Eastern Conference into executing like they did in Game 1.
After revealing the move, Bylsma cited Vokoun’s .970 save percentage and 3-0 record against the Islanders this season. That may have helped make the decision easier, although Fleury’s sub-par performance had to be the ultimate determining factor.
Opening faceoff for Game 5 is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center.