UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- With the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins tied 2-2 in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the underdog New York Islanders, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma decided it was time to make changes to his lineup. Fortunately for him, his team's deep roster included the kind of veteran players any team would want.
The big move was naming veteran backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun the team's starter for Game 5 on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The switch was made after regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury struggled badly in Pittsburgh's 6-4 Game 4 loss.
For any team, naming a new starting goaltender midway through a Stanley Cup Playoff series would be controversial. But not every team has a backup goaltender with 300 career NHL wins under his belt.
Vokoun made 31 saves for the shutout in Pittsburgh's Game 5 win and will start again for the Penguins in Game 6 Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"Throughout this season for us, he's been a guy who, not only in the games but off the ice as well, has been a leader," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Vokoun. "When he's gotten in there, he tends to have a calming influence with how he plays and dictates the game. He's been that for us and I thought in Game 5 he gave that for our team."
Vokoun especially was sharp in the opening period of Game 5, making a number of big stops as the Penguins were outshot 14-7 in the period. In his first playoff appearance in six years, Vokoun did everything required of him in a must-win game at home.
"He's just such a hard-working guy and he's so solid," Penguins forward Brenden Morrow said. "His temperament is perfect for this. He's a bit of an even-keeled kind of guy. So whatever the situation is, I think he's comfortable in it. He's hungry and played really well. [He] made some big saves early. They did come after us in the first 10 [minutes]. He had to be really sharp and held us in there, gave us some confidence. Then we found a break."
That break came courtesy of another valuable veteran who didn't see the ice in any of the first four games. Forward Tyler Kennedy was inserted into the lineup for Game 5 and opened the scoring in the second period. After taking a perfect outlet pass from Kris Letang, Kennedy broke in alone and snapped a shot over the glove of Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
"To have a player like Tyler Kennedy not in your lineup is not the easiest thing to be able to do," Bylsma said. "To be able to insert him in the lineup was a huge plus for us. He's played big games, scored big goals. You add his speed and energy, but he has played a lot of games in the playoffs. To have a guy like that come in says a lot about the depth of our team."
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