KANATA, Ontario – The Penguins may have lost in double overtime to the Senators on Sunday in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, but it wasn’t for a lack of excellent play by their goaltender.
Tomas Vokoun produced his best performance of the playoffs in a game that spanned five periods, stopping 46 shots in the 2-1 defeat to the Senators.
Vokoun, who recorded his first loss of the postseason in his fifth straight start, did his best impression of a brick wall in a tight checking, physical, intense and exciting matchup between the Penguins and the Senators – a game that could truly have gone either way with how well both teams played and the back-and-forth nature of it.
“I think it was Tomas’ best game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He wasn’t busy maybe through the first half of the game with the number of shots – 13 or 14 – but they had a couple of great flurries, a couple of good chances. (Erik) Karlsson a couple times sneaking on the backdoor in the offensive zone, he had a couple big saves there. Strong around the net.
“Both goaltenders were extremely good and (Craig) Anderson was one better at the end.”
As Bylsma said, both Vokoun and his Ottawa counterpart Anderson, who was pulled in the second period of Game 2 after surrendering three goals on 21 shots, played marvelous and were the reason this game was as close as it was.
Vokoun’s play was even more meaningful considering he was coming off an evening where he let in two goals he’d like to have back in the Penguins’ 4-3 win over Ottawa in Game 2 back in Pittsburgh. But he rebounded with a spectacular performance in Game 3.
The most noticeable difference in his performance tonight versus his play in the last game is that he was fantastic from the very beginning. In Game 2, he seemed to be fighting the puck early. But in Game 3, he didn’t waver at any point whatsoever.
Vokoun was in his zone from the start, playing very calm and controlled in the crease. He read the play very well and was square and set up as a result, absorbing every puck that came his way. In today’s morning skate, Vokoun had spent time working on how to play shots that caromed off the end boards, and it showed as he read those plays perfectly in the game. No matter where the Senators shot from, he was in position.
A game like this, one that’s so close, has to be a tough loss for a goaltender to take. But as the unflappable Vokoun remarked drily after the game, “It’s got to end somehow.” He already seems refocused and ready for Wednesday’s Game 4.
“Nothing changes. We have the emotion come down tonight and tomorrow is a new day. It’s just a game. We are still up 2-1 and we have a big one on Wednesday.”
If Vokoun gets the start and plays anything like he did tonight in that game, the Penguins may be going home with a 3-1 series lead.