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Vokoun starting in goal for Penguins

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- The man at the forefront might have been the only person explicitly and formally informed of a decision from Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma that everyone awaited.

Tomas Vokoun informed reporters Tuesday morning that he would be the team's starting goaltender against the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, NBCSN).

"I'm not surprised," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "He played really well in what was a tough situation to come into like he did last series. He came in after having not played in a while and shut the door."

Vokoun had a 1.41 goals-against average and .957 save percentage starting Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders. Vokoun replaced ineffective Marc-Andre Fleury after the eighth-seeded Islanders evened the series 2-2 and had a shutout in Game 5. He returned to stop 35 of 38 shots in an overtime victory in Game 6.

Considering it had been 12 years since anyone other than Fleury started a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the Penguins, there was speculation Bylsma might go back to the 2009 Stanley Cup winner after Pittsburgh advanced to conference semifinals.

In the end, though, the decision was obvious after Fleury allowed 40 goals in his previous 10 postseason games.

"I wasn't sure after [Game 6 against the Islanders] if they were going to go back to Marc, but I'm trying not to get too caught up in that," Vokoun said. "Coaches just tell me I'm playing, and if I'm not playing I'm trying to find other ways to help the team."

Players across the locker room insisted they hadn't been told who was going to start -- and they said they didn't care either.

"It doesn't really matter to me -- I'm playing my game, and everybody's going to just try to play his game," defenseman Kris Letang said. "[Vokoun] is going to try to stop the puck -- that's his job."

Even though he did that task statistically better than Fleury did in the Islanders series, the Penguins skaters generally played more mistake-free games in Games 5 and 6 against the Islanders.

Even as Bylsma said Tuesday that momentum rarely is carried over from series to series, the results when Vokoun played were impossible to ignore.

"I think the team played a little better in front of him to help him," Niskanen said. "Generally, when you win a couple games in the playoffs and win a series like that, you're not going to change too much, so I'm not too surprised."

Vokoun has appeared in 700 NHL regular-season games and has 300 victories -- totals that rank in the top 30 in League history. But he had 11 games of experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as of a week ago.

After his 31-save shutout in Game 5, Vokoun admitted he had nerves all day leading up to it. Tuesday, he acknowledged feeling the same way.

"For me, it's just trying to keep it on an even keel and not get too excited about stuff," Vokoun said. "The only thing that matters is if we get the [win] in the end. And I think that goes for all the guys here."

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