It didn't come as much of a surprise Wednesday afternoon when Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma informed reporters that Tomas Vokoun would replace Marc-Andre Fleury in goal for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Islanders.
Fleury allowed six goals on 24 shots in Tuesday's 6-4 loss in Game 4 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. With the best-of-7 series shifting back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday tied 2-2, Bylsma is going with Vokoun, who went 3-0-0 with a shutout against the Islanders during the regular season.
Not long before Bylsma made the announcement, Islanders center John Tavares discussed the possible switch with Mike Francesa of WFAN in New York.
"I don't think we'd be surprised," Tavares said. "Obviously, a lot of goals have been scored, a lot of swings in the series. Some bad bounces both ways. They had one to start the third off of [Pascal] Dupuis' leg and obviously we had the one by Kyle [Okposo] behind the net, but we're prepared for both.
"We've done a good job focusing on ourselves and preparing for the talent they have and what they might bring. If they make a change, they make a change. We've got to go out there and continue to play the same way. We'll be ready for either one."
Fleury blanked the Islanders with 26 saves in Game 1, but his goals-against average has ballooned to 3.40. New York raced out to a 2-0 lead and rallied from 4-2 down in the third period of Game 3, but the Penguins earned a 5-4 overtime victory on a goal by Chris Kunitz.
Rather than hanging their heads, the Islanders showed they won't go down without a fight. Tavares broke a 4-4 tie midway through the third period to help his club make this series a best-of-3.
"We've definitely done some really good things and we've been able to have some success," Tavares said. "I think that breeds confidence. Once you see that success, I think that drives you more, to know that what we're doing is working and we've been able to capitalize on opportunities. We expect we can keep doing some good things and we believe that these situations we've been in, we've been able to battle back and overcome a lot of stuff. We know there's going to be a lot more of that here."
This series has been a seesaw affair since the start of Game 2, an up-and-down, physical battle that has captivated fans in both markets and across the hockey world. Though it may give the coaches ulcers, Tavares understands it's been a treat for the fans.
"Definitely from a fan perspective, it must be a lot of fun to watch," Tavares said. "It's been back-and-forth. We've had leads, we've had to come from behind, we've given up leads. There's been late-game changes, a lot of swings, the play has been going both ways, ups and downs on special teams … it's been intense and it's one of our division rivals."
Tavares' goal Tuesday created a roar the Coliseum hasn't heard in years, probably not since Shawn Bates' penalty shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Islanders and their fan base have gone through a lot of tough times since then, something Tavares is aware of as he attempts to help his franchise get over the hump.
"It's been pretty incredible, the way people have embraced us and being back in the playoffs an obviously getting a big win [Tuesday] night," said Tavares, who has two goals and two assists in the series. "They're hungry for it.
"We're thrilled about our opportunity. We're halfway there. Hopefully we can have a strong effort and get the outcome we need."
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