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Spotlight now on Vokoun after Penguins' switch

by Shawn P. Roarke

PITTSBURGH -- Tomas Vokoun of the Pittsburgh Penguins has Marc-Andre Fleury in his corner heading into a series-defining Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Thursday against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

"I'm sure he will be great tonight," Fleury said.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma named Vokoun the Game 5 starter Wednesday. He felt it was the necessary move after Fleury struggled in the three games following a series-opening shutout.

Fleury allowed six goals on 24 shots in a 6-4 loss on Long Island in Game 4 on Tuesday that evened the best-of-7 series at two games apiece and raised Fleury's postseason goals-against average to 3.40. Fleury has allowed 14 goals in the past three games, losing two.

Even Fleury had to admit his performance in the series is not what the top-seeded Penguins needed or wanted.

"A lot of goals, you know," he said. "My job's to stop the puck. It's frustrating. I wish I would have done better, but I guess it's in the past.

"[I'm] looking forward to another shot. But not tonight."

No, a shot at redemption for Fleury will have to wait.

Instead, Vokoun, the veteran backup who hasn't played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2007, when he was a member of the Nashville Predators, gets the chance to put the Penguins back on the proper track.

Vokoun has 11 postseason games under his belt, all with the Predators, and has won three. But he does have a career .922 save percentage in those 11 starts.

"For me, I'm going to enjoy it," Vokoun said after a brisk workout during the morning skate Thursday. "I wasn't sure I was ever going to get the chance to play again in playoffs. It's nice to have the chance. You play hockey to be in this moment. You don't play hockey to go for morning skate, take shots and do that.

"Everybody is nervous; you wouldn't be human if you weren't. But I've played long enough and been through a lot, and hopefully that will pull me through."

Vokoun, who was signed during the summer to serve as a backup to Fleury, saw a fair amount of action this season, going 13-4-0 in 20 games. He also won all three of his starts against the Islanders, allowing a total of three goals. He stopped 98 of 101 shots he faced from the Islanders this season.

However, he knows none of that success will mean anything Thursday as the Penguins play with the series hanging in the balance.

"That doesn't matter," he said emphatically when his numbers against the Islanders were discussed. "Today, the game is going to start 0-0. I don't put a lot of thought to that. You just never know. Every game is different. Obviously this is going to be a lot different game than Game 35 in the regular season. I'm focusing on myself and I don't even care who we are playing.

"If you play your game, you have to believe it's good enough to be successful. That's more key for me than looking at who my opponent is and what they do."

"In the same sense, it's a wake-up call for us. By no means can you fault [Fleury]. It's us in front of him. It energizes us to play better."
-- Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton

But it is more than Vokoun who will have to play his game Thursday for the Penguins.

The sight of Fleury sitting in his locker Thursday morning answering painful questions about his fall from grace were a vivid reminder that none of the Penguins have been good enough during the past week.

"[Vokoun] has played great for us every chance that he has gotten," Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton said. "In the same sense, it's a wake-up call for us. By no means can you fault [Fleury]. It's us in front of him. It energizes us to play better."

Fellow defenseman Paul Martin also placed the fault firmly at the skates of those who played in front of Fleury the past three games. He said they all must be better Thursday to ensure Bylsma's tough choice pays dividends.

"As players, you prepare to play your game as you normally would, no matter who is in the lineup -- forward, defense, goalie. We just have to play better," Martin said. "They are both competitive and they are both going to do a great job in front of us. We just have to make sure we are ready to play."

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