PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins had all the answers Thursday night. As a result, they moved to within one victory of advancing to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Asked troubling questions by the spirited, nothing-to-lose New York Islanders in losing two of the past three games, the Penguins finally found some answers in a dominant Game 5 performance, taking a 4-0 decision at the Consol Energy Center.
Game 6 of this best-of-7 series is Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The eighth-seeded Isles need to win that game to force a winner-take-all Game 7 back here on Sunday.
"As the game went on, we played like we wanted to play," Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun said after making 31 saves in his first playoff start since 2007. "We kept it simple, we got in their zone and that's where we want to play. We want to be keeping the puck there for long periods of time."
The Penguins did not start out the way they wanted and had to weather a first-period storm that saw the flying-high Islanders dominate play for long periods of time. If it were not for the brilliance of Vokoun, there was a good chance that Pittsburgh could have trailed at some point.
"I think we felt he was calm and confident out there and it kind of transmitted to the other players and went from there," defenseman Kris Letang said. "We were a little bit on our heels because [the Islanders] had a good start.
"He was really important all game long. He made key saves at key moments and obviously he was really calm in the net and gave us confidence."
Perhaps most important was that Vokoun -- who started Game 5 in place of the ineffective Marc-Andre Fleury -- bought the Penguins some time to find their offense. After being outplayed for the first 25 minutes or so, as Pittsburgh used a two-goal outburst during an 82-second span of the second period to put the Islanders back on their heels.
Tyler Kennedy, another Game 5 insertion, scored the game-opening goal at 7:25 of the second period when he got behind the Islanders' defense on a line change and was sprung on a successful breakaway by a crisp outlet pass from Letang.
"[Kennedy] kept a great, positive attitude and he got rewarded today with a big goal for our team," Vokoun said. "That's a huge thing to score the first goal in a game like that."
"TK's goal was huge," Sidney Crosby added.
Murray added to that lead when his harmless wrister was misplayed by Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov and ended up knuckling off the goalie's glove, over his head and into the net.
After that, Crosby and Vokoun, who made 31 saves to earn his second playoff shutout and first since 2004, took over the game.
Crosby was the best player on the ice for much of the final 40 minutes and had two breathtaking plays to put this game away.
The first came on a second-period goal that gave the Penguins a 3-0 lead. After taking a pass from Jarome Iginla, Crosby picked up speed as he hit the attacking blue line and used some nifty stickhandling to split the defensive pairing of Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey before snapping off a shot that eluded Nabokov (23 saves) and found the far corner.
In the third period, he assisted on the Letang goal that chased Nabokov from the game. On the faceoff following Matt Martin's roughing penalty, Crosby was able to draw the puck back to Paul Martin at the point and then receive it back before threading a backhanded saucer pass to Letang, who slammed the puck home.
The Penguins answered the questions necessary to win, largely through the bold moves of coach Dan Bylsma.
Bylsma turned to Vokoun when Fleury, the No. 1 with a Stanley Cup ring from four years ago, couldn't make the saves to see the Penguins clear of pushes from the Islanders. He also inserted Kennedy, Joe Vitale and defenseman Simon Despres into the lineup and juggled his top two lines, moving Chris Kunitz with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal while Iginla moved to the right side of Crosby, joining Pascal Dupuis on the top line.
But, it was the choice to go with Vokoun that will be most remembered. All Vokoun did was stop everything thrown at him by an Islanders team that had scored 14 times in the past three games.
"I was a little bit nervous," Vokoun said. "I think you wouldn't be human if you weren't having nervous time in playoffs. It's hard to remember what it felt like seven years ago. I got a couple fortunate bounces. As the game went on, I started feeling better."
Vokoun made the biggest of his saves when he stopped John Tavares on a semi-breakaway with the Penguins holding a 2-0 lead. It was the type of save they were not getting from Fleury -- and it energized the Penguins while demoralizing the Islanders.
"We've got to keep shooting and make sure we have traffic in front of him and be aggressive," defenseman Mark Streit said. "He played a heck of a game, but on the other hand we can do better ourselves."
They will have to be better on Saturday night to extend this series -- and then, the Islanders will have to come back here and win a Game 7. It's the same scenario the Islanders faced in their last playoff meeting with Pittsburgh 20 years ago, when they won Game 6 at home before ending the Penguins' hopes of a third consecutive championship by winning Game 7 in overtime.
"It's a best-of-3," Islanders forward Colin McDonald said. "We're still in this. We've been in this position a lot of times before and sometimes that's when we play our best."
|Tyler Kennedy (1) ASST: Kris Letang (4), Brandon Sutter (1)|
1 - 0 PIT
|Douglas Murray (2) ASST: Chris Kunitz (3), Evgeni Malkin (7)|
2 - 0 PIT
|Sidney Crosby (3) ASST: Jarome Iginla (7), Pascal Dupuis (2)|
3 - 0 PIT
|PPG - Kris Letang (2) ASST: Sidney Crosby (5), Paul Martin (4)|
4 - 0 PIT
|Power Play %||17.9%||16.5%|
|% on Road||13.3%||15.6%|
|% at Home||21.6%||17.0%|
|Brian Strait Interference against Joe Vitale|
|James Neal Roughing against Keith Aucoin|
|Matt Martin Roughing against Paul Martin|
|Douglas Murray Interference against Keith Aucoin|
|Travis Hamonic Roughing against Brenden Morrow|
|Brad Boyes Unsportsmanlike conduct against Evgeni Malkin|
|Evgeni Malkin Unsportsmanlike conduct against Brad Boyes|
|Thomas Hickey Elbowing against Brandon Sutter|
|Travis Hamonic Roughing against Joe Vitale|
|Casey Cizikas Roughing against Brenden Morrow|
|Joe Vitale Roughing against Travis Hamonic|
|Brenden Morrow Roughing against Casey Cizikas|
|Brian Strait Cross checking against Craig Adams|
|Keith Aucoin Misconduct (10 min)|
|Matt Martin Misconduct (10 min)|
|Craig Adams Misconduct (10 min)|
|Douglas Murray Misconduct (10 min)|