It’s been six years since goaltender Tomas Vokoun played in the NHL playoffs. And he felt that he may never again have that opportunity.
But that chance became a reality Wednesday morning when head coach Dan Bylsma informed him that he would be the Penguins starting netminder in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Islanders Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
And Vokoun is going to take it all in.
“I’m going to enjoy it. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get a chance to play again in the playoffs,” Vokoun said. “It’s nice to have the chance. You play hockey to be in this moment. You don’t play hockey for morning skates and taking shots.”
Vokoun, 36, is a 14-year NHL veteran that has played in 700 NHL games and won 300 contests. But he’s only played in 11 playoff games in his career and hasn’t appeared in postseason action since 2007 with the Nashville Predators. He’s anticipating some butterflies before the game.
“Everybody is nervous. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t,” he said. “I’ve played long enough and been through a lot. Hopefully, that helps me through it.”
Vokoun had a remarkable first season in a Penguins uniform in 2012-13. He went 13-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and three shutouts. Vokoun set the franchise mark (and personal best) for consecutive shutout minutes at 173:06 from March 22 to April 2.
But one of the biggest reasons for making the switch to Vokoun was his success against the Islanders this season. In four games (three starts, one relief appearance), Vokoun had a 3-0 record, 0.90 GAA, .970 save percentage and one shutout..
But regular season success doesn’t necessarily translate into the playoffs.
“It doesn’t mean anything. The game starts 0-0,” he said. “You never know. Every game is different. This is going to be a different game than Game 35 in the regular season. I’m focusing on myself. I don’t even care who we play. You focus on what you need to do.
“That’s more key than what our opponent is.”
Vokoun takes over in goal for Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury started the first four games of the series, going 2-2 with a 3.40 goals-against average, .891 save percentage and one shutout.
Fleury was at his best in Game 1. He made 26 saves for his sixth career playoff shutout (tying Tom Barrasso for the franchise record) in a 5-0 win. But after that he was plagued by fluky goals - few pucks bouncing off the backboards or his own body.
“Some of those goals were tough breaks,” Vokoun said. “He looked good. He wasn’t guessing. He wasn’t getting beat on straight shots. Some were deflections. It’s almost like he’s getting there earlier than he’s supposed to. It’s actually hurting him more. I told him I thought he looked good. Sometimes that happens.”
While Fleury was disappointed with the change, he understood why it happened.
“My job is to stop the puck. It’s frustrating,” he said. “I wish I would have done better. It’s in the past.
“Losing is what’s hard. We’re 2-2 right now. ‘Voky’ has had a great season. He’s played great against the Islanders. I’m sure he’ll be great tonight.”
How the goalie situation shakes out in the long run will only be figured out over time. But both goalies haven’t looked any further than Game 5.
“I have a job to do. We just need to get through this and whatever happens, happens,” Vokoun said. “I’m not thinking about that. I’m just thinking about stopping the first shot and going from there.”