Wednesday morning, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma picked Tomas Vokoun ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury as his starting goaltender for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).With Bylsma's team having lost the first two games of the series on home ice, it could be a series-defining decision.
But was it the right one?
Neither goaltender has been close to outstanding in the first two games; the Bruins have scored nine goals. Vokoun allowed three on 30 shots in Game 1, then was pulled in the first period of Game 2 after letting in three goals on 12 shots in the first 16:31 of the game. Fleury wasn't much better, stopping 14 of 17 shots in two-plus periods.
Vokoun has been solid in getting the Penguins to this point, but Fleury has more playoff experience, including a Stanley Cup ring.
NHL.com Senior Managing Editor Shawn P. Roarke makes the case for sticking with Vokoun, while NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor Adam Kimelman believes the Penguins should have gone back to Fleury.
The case for Marc-Andre Fleury
By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
Tale of the tape: Vokoun vs. Fleury
|6-3||2013 playoff record||2-2|
|2.26||2013 playoff GAA||3.52|
|.929||2013 playoff SVP||.883|
|1||2013 playoff SO||1|
|3||3-goal games in '13 playoffs||4|
|0||4-goal games in '13 playoffs||3|
|9-11||Career playoff record||45-34|
|2.38||Career playoff GAA||2.73|
|.925||Career playoff SVP||.903|
|2||Career playoff SO||6|
The lasting image of Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will be his desperate, lunging shoulder save of a Nicklas Lidstrom shot in the final seconds of Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
It was one of 23 Fleury made that day, one game after he stopped 25 of 26 shots in Game 6 in Pittsburgh to force the final game.
Those two games came on the heels of arguably Fleury's worst playoff performance to that point, when he let in five goals on 21 shots in Game 5 of the series in Detroit.
What's the point of all that? It's that Fleury is a lot of things, and resilient is near the top of the list. And it's one reason the Penguins should have opted to go back to him in net for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
Was Fleury good in the first round against the New York Islanders? No, and after the performance he had in Game 4 of that series, he deserved to lose his starting job. And Tomas Vokoun has been good backstopping the Penguins to this point.
The Penguins' problems in the first two games against the Bruins haven't necessarily been in goal. Their defensive coverage has been shoddy, and the offense has scored one goal in 120 minutes of hockey.
But when the Penguins have broken down, Vokoun hasn't been there the past two games to make the needed saves. In Game 1 he let David Krejci's goal slip under him, and he was slow reacting to the play and couldn't get over in time to stop Nathan Horton from scoring.
It was more of the same in Game 2. He couldn't stop Brad Marchand on a breakaway in the first minute, then let two more pucks past him in the first 16 minutes of the game, putting the Penguins a hole they couldn't overcome.
Fleury allowed three goals in Game 2, but that's nothing new for him -- he allowed at least three goals in a game 44 times the past two seasons. But what stands out is his record after those games: 26-13-1 with a pair of shutouts, including 9-3-0 in 13 occasions in 2012-13.
He also has the ability to get hot in a hurry. Three times this season he won at least four straight games, including seven in a row in March. In 2011-12 he had four four-game win streaks, including a pair of nine-game runs.
And no goalie playing right now has as much experience as Fleury. He's played in 80 postseason games, almost as many as Tuukka Rask (27), Jonathan Quick (48) and Corey Crawford (29) combined, and he's been in twice as many Stanley Cup Finals as the other three starting goaltenders still playing combined.
The Penguins are in a situation where they need their best players to be their best players, especially in goal. And the Penguins' best goalie is Marc-Andre Fleury, which means he should be back in net.
The case for Tomas Vokoun
By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor
Asked about the lineup for a season-defining Game 3 in Boston in two days, Bylsma said the players on the ice at TD Garden on Wednesday will give the Penguins the best chance to claw their way back into this best-of-7 series with a victory.
For Bylsma to live up to that promise, he had to name Tomas Vokoun the starter when the puck drops for Game 3, which he did following the team's morning skate. Vokoun, simply, is the best option for the Penguins.
Yes, technically he is the backup. He does not have the same depth or breadth of experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as Marc-Andre Fleury; but he is playing better right now. And that is all that matters.
This decision had to be about the present. The tomorrows and what they bring can be dealt with tomorrow.
Vokoun has been just what the Penguins needed when he rescued them from their previous flirtation with disaster this postseason. After a strong Game 1 against the New York Islanders, Fleury came apart at the seams in the next three games. When he was passed over for the Game 5 start, his goals-against average was a bloated 3.52.
In his past two postseasons, Fleury has allowed four or more goals seven times in 10 games.
Vokoun has yet to allow four goals in any of his nine games this postseason. That alone should be enough to sway the argument in favor of Vokoun.
However, numbers alone do not tell the whole story. There is the way in which goals are allowed and how the goalies react.
Fleury was a mess in the series against the Islanders, allowing questionable goals and publicly displaying frustration with his play throughout his three-game run of struggles. Vokoun, on the other hand, rarely has been rattled. He's given up a few bad goals this spring, but he never even blinks and easily refocuses on the task at hand.
It's not surprising that many of his teammates cite Vokoun's calmness as the underlying foundation of a run that saw the goalie win six of seven before the Bruins came calling.
Plus, Fleury already has had a chance to reclaim the goaltending throne. Inserted into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final late in the first period -- whether to motivate the rest of the Penguins or stop the bleeding -- Fleury had to be a wall. Instead, he allowed Brad Marchand to score on the first shot he faced. The fact it came with 8.1 seconds remaining in the period stung even more.
Fleury did nothing in his relief role to suggest he is ready for a return to the crease.
Prevailing sports wisdom suggests you stick with those who have defined your success. Vokoun is the reason Pittsburgh is in the Eastern Conference Final. That's why it is right he be allowed to determine how long the Penguins remain in the fight.