NASHVILLE -- Tomas Vokoun has been watching the Stanley Cup Final between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins with great interest and divided loyalties.
Vokoun, a goaltender and original Predator, played in Nashville for eight seasons after being claimed from the Montreal Canadiens in the 1998 NHL Expansion Draft. He experienced many of the organization's early growing pains and triumphs, including its first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2004. He finished his 15-season NHL career with the Penguins in 2012-13 before retiring the following season because of blood clots.
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The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 2-0 heading into Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), which has Vokoun, 40, dealing with some mixed emotions.
"I do secretly wish Nashville wins," Vokoun said in a telephone interview from Florida. "On the other hand, I'm not going to be upset if Pittsburgh wins. I'm glad those two teams are in the Final. I think hockey won. They're skilled teams, up-tempo teams and it's fun to watch."
Vokoun, who also played for the Canadiens, Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals, called Nashville and Pittsburgh two of his favorite spots where he played.
"Pittsburgh is very similar to Nashville except it's up north and colder," he said "But the communities, the people are similar."
Vokoun played in Pittsburgh more recently, so he knows more of the current Penguins and keeps in touch with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The only remaining Predators he played with in Nashville are goaltender Pekka Rinne and center Vernon Fiddler. He also played with Predators right wing James Neal in Pittsburgh.
But Vokoun has a stronger connection with the Predators, and returned to Nashville for a regular-season game in February. Though he didn't completely rule out trying to get to a Stanley Cup Final game, he has been content to watch the playoff games on television.
Having played a part in helping the Predators grow, he's thrilled to see the raucous crowds inside and outside Bridgestone Arena and how the city has embraced the team.
"I spent, by NHL standards, a long time there, so I feel proud where the organization is today and how hockey grew in Tennessee," he said. "It was a long road and there were ups and downs, definitely. There were times when I think it was in doubt if the team was going to stay there and it shows it was the right place for it and they have the support. Now they have a following better than some traditional franchises, and it's not just that they're in the Final this year.
"They've had a good team for a long time and they've been very successful."
Vokoun's 383 games and 161 wins for Nashville rank second among goaltenders in Predators history behind Rinne's 508 games and 269 wins. Rinne, selected by the Predators in the eighth round (No. 258) of the 2004 NHL Draft, played two NHL games before Vokoun departed following the 2006-07 season.
But they spent a good amount of time during that one season together when Rinne was in Nashville recovering from shoulder surgery.
Vokoun feels for Rinne after watching him allow eight goals on 36 shots in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. Rinne was pulled in the third period of a 4-1 loss in Game 2 after giving up four goals on 11 shots, including no shots for 37 minutes before Penguins forward Jake Guentzel scored the winner, in a 5-3 loss in Game 1 on Monday.
"You stand there for 37 minutes waiting for the next shot and it was a pretty good shot," Vokoun said. "Then it looks bad on you, but those are the toughest games to play for a goalie. I would not fault him on that. And [Game 2] was very similar. Sometimes as a goaltender you're part of the team, but you play your own game and sometimes the circumstances can play a role.
"Saying that, this is the crunch time for him. He needs to step up and shut the door."
Before Matt Murray replaced Fleury as the Penguins starter for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators, Fleury mentioned a secret tip Vokoun told him for shaking off bad games. Vokoun, a coach at South Florida Hockey Academy in Coral Springs, wouldn't reveal what that tip is, but said the key for any goaltender is to find a way to relax.
"He's got to look at himself and say, 'Did I make any mistakes? Probably, yes. OK, how do I correct them?'" Vokoun said of Rinne. "But he cannot focus on the bad luck because that's going to kill you. If you go and start saying, 'What if the same thing starts happening next game?' You can't play that way. Then you start worrying about stuff that's out of your control and then it's over for you if you're a goaltender."