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Fill-in Vokoun lifts Penguins with shutout

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Tomas Vokoun dropped a shot from his glove. Not long after, during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie resorted to merely hoping the puck stayed between his arm and torso. During an ensuing scrum, he was relieved a find the puck underneath his pads after losing track of chance by New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo.

All of that during the first half of the first period of Vokoun's first appearance in a Stanley Cup Playoff game since 2007.

"I haven't played in the playoffs for such a long time, it's hard to remember six years ago and what to expect," the 36-year-old said afterward. "I got a couple of fortunate bounces -- Okposo's shot got through and it was kind of tight, but the puck stayed under my pad.

"And from that moment on, I started feeling better and moving well. After that I felt pretty good."

Tomas Vokoun
Goalie - PIT
GAA: 0.00 | SVP: 1.000
More than just "pretty good;" statistically, Vokoun was perfect.

Summoned by coach Dan Bylsma to replace ineffective Marc-Andre Fleury after the Penguins allowed 14 goals over a three-game stretch to fall into a 2-2 tie in a best-of-7 series they are heavily favored to win, Vokoun stopped all 31 shots he saw Thursday in a 4-0 Pittsburgh victory.

Even in his 14th NHL season, even after 700 career regular-season games and 300 career victories, Vokoun said he felt the nerves all throughout Thursday.

"I don't care who you are, you get a little nervous," Vokoun said. "I think you wouldn't be human if you weren't.

"I just tried to stay focused -- but you don't want to get too focused because you don't want to wear yourself down thinking about the game four hours before the game starts. But it's still a game and you have to enjoy it. ...

"When things are going well, you obviously enjoy it a lot more."

Vokoun became the 28th NHL goalie to win 300 games and the 24th to play 700 games during his final regular-season appearance April 23. He was playing in a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the first time since April 20, 2007.

One of his three postseason victories before Thursday was a shutout of the Detroit Red Wings on April 13, 2003.

Fleury shut out the Islanders in Game 1 on May 1. But he allowed 14 goals in the three games since, causing Bylsma to turn to Vokoun, who was signed to a two-year contract during the offseason to provide insurance for situations such as this.

Fleury has allowed 40 goals in his past 10 postseason games -- but he had started every Penguins playoff game since 2007. When Vokoun was between the pipes for the opening faceoff Thursday, it was the first time in 12 years someone other than Fleury started a playoff game for the Penguins.

"He was solid," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Vokoun. "Hopefully we didn't make things too tough on him. We didn't do a great job of helping Marc out and we wanted to make sure we did a better job in front of our goalie. He made some good saves, but I think we did a better job in front of him and at keeping the puck down in their end a little more."

Pittsburgh improved at that as the game went on, taking control during the second period after a shaky first in which it allowed 14 shots. That was reminiscent of most of the previous three games when the teams traded chances and the eighth-seeded Islanders generally had the better of the play.

Be it a pledge to shore up for Vokoun, a newfound dedication to defense, or perhaps desperation setting in with a possible series deficit staring them in the face, the top-seeded Penguins were much better at preventing odd-man breaks and quality chances during Game 5.

"We've got to make it harder for him," Islanders forward John Tavares said. "It was not very tough for him. [We] didn't get to the front of the net a whole lot. [We] had some chances at times, but it wasn't very difficult … we didn't make it tough on them."

Vokoun has been tough on New York all season. Combining the regular season and playoffs, he improved to 4-0-0 with a 0.69 goals-against average and .977 save percentage and two shutouts against the Islanders.

"He played a heck of a game," Islanders captain Mark Streit said. "But on the other hand we can do better ourselves."

Vokoun, who established a franchise record with a 173:06 shutout streak during the Penguins' 15-game winning streak in March, figures to have earned at least one more start in the series.

Asked who would start in goal for Game 6 Saturday night on Long Island, the notoriously tightlipped Bylsma said, "I'm going to revert to not telling you about my lineup, but he played pretty good in the game, so ..."

Vokoun turns 37 July 2 -- days after the Stanley Cup figures to be awarded. Regardless how many postseason starts he gets between now and then, his primary concern is being able to lift the Cup.

After years of playing on mediocre-to-bad teams, Vokoun has never even experienced being on the winning side of a handshake line.

Should the Penguins end up defeating the Islanders in this series, Vokoun can rest assured he played his part.

"I've said all year long, I don't care if I play one minute or play every minute," Vokoun said. "Whatever the coaches decide, that's fine by me. There's a lot of guys like that. Every guy in here, we don't care who gets the ice time or who gets the goals -- we care about if we win at the end. And that's all."

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