After being replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins after allowing three goals on 12 shots, the Penguins came right back with Tomas Vokoun as their starting goalie for Game 3.
“I’m just trying to repay their confidence,” Vokoun said this morning about getting the start from the coaching staff.
He did exactly that.
All coach Dan Bylsma said he wanted from Vokoun was for him to give his team a chance to win this hockey game. He did everything he could to make that happen. The Penguins lost the game on Wednesday at TD Garden in double overtime, but it wasn’t because of their goaltender.
Vokoun played spectacular in a game that stretched into the early hours of the morning, allowing just two goals on 40 shots in 95:19 minutes of hockey, with the winner being scored in heartbreaking fashion by Patrice Bergeron on a play that would have been tough for any goalie to stop.
“(Brad) Marchand, it was kind of a pass-shot from the side,” Vokoun said. “I really don’t know what happened, but Bergeron got to the puck first and he put it in.”
The Bruins scored first, just 1:42 into the game, when the Penguins gave the NHL’s leading scorer David Krejci time and space to make a play from behind the net that deflected off a skate and beat Vokoun short side. Considering the situation – the Bruins scored a backbreaking goal early in Game 2 that kickstarted their win – that goal could have been tough for Vokoun to shake off. But he did, and responded with an outstanding performance.
“The pass that went off the skate and got by him, it’s unfortunate, because that looked like the only way he was going to let one in,” Bylsma said after the game. “He played really, really well; really solid. I think there were a number of (chances), 4-5 really good chances, one in particular there in the first overtime. He made some great saves, played really solid for us and we threw 50-plus shots and unfortunately they get one off a skate, bounce early on, and the last one of the game.”
The Penguins had a lot of scoring chances in this game, throwing 54 shots at Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, but so did the Bruins. Boston had a plethora of both open looks and shots through traffic that could have easily been goals, but Vokoun was there every time – kicking out a pad or absorbing it into his midsection to keep it from going into the back of the net.
“He was awesome,” forward Jarome Iginla said. “I mean, both goalies, you’ve got to tip your hat. (Vokoun) made huge saves on their power plays, at different times, very timely ones. OT, I think he stopped a breakaway. And we had great shots and great looks at Rask and he was finding them through some good screens. The goalies played great tonight and I mean, we had some great looks.”
Vokoun’s save of the game came in the overtime period when Kris Letang’s pass was intercepted by Bruins forward Nathan Horton. Horton skated in on a breakaway. Vokoun read him right, squaring up and blocking the puck with his body to keep his team playing.
Overall, the best way to describe Vokoun’s play in this game is that he weathered multiple storms for the Penguins in this nerveracking nailbiter of a game. While fans nervously watched with bated breath, Vokoun calmly turned aside the puck after puck. His caliber of play makes this already heartbreaking loss even tougher to take.
“It’s frustrating,” Vokoun said after the game. “Obviously when you lose in double overtime, it’s not a good feeling. It’s not a good feeling.”
All the Penguins can do, he said, is focus on the next game.
“We go to the Game 4, simply,” Vokoun said. “It’s a tough loss, but we are in that situation and now we have nothing to lose, so we go to the next game.”
And if Vokoun plays like this again, they have a chance to win.