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The Penguins finally got to their game.
"Getting to our game" is a phrase Dan Bylsma has been fond of using this season. Perhaps overly fond. For three consecutive games in their first round playoff series with the eighth-seeded New York Islanders, the Penguins couldn't find their game. They were outworked and outplayed by the markedly less-talented Isles. So last night they found themselves taking the ice at the Consol Energy Center tied at two in a series most didn't see going longer than five games.
Change was in order and Byslma didn't shy away from some hard, and potentially risky moves. These were far from cosmetic. This was a makeover.
In goal Bylsma called on 36-year-old Tomas Vokoun. Was it a desperate move? Absolutely. The Penguins had played 79 games in the Marc-Andre Fleury era and he had started every one. Vokoun was very solid in the regular season posting a 13-4 record with a 2.45 GAA and a .919 save percentage, but he hadn't appeared in a playoff game since April 20, 2007. That was so long ago Sidney Crosby had only been on the winning side of one playoff game in his career.
But starting Vokoun was the right move and for that Bylsma can thank General Manager Ray Shero. June 4, 2012 Ray Shero made perhaps his best deal in a year that has been filled with good ones. He acquired Vokoun from the Washington Capitals for a 7th round draft pick and promptly signed him to a two-year, $4 million deal. The Penguins didn't win the Zach Parise or Ryan Suter sweepstakes in the offseason, but in Vokoun they got their insurance policy. If Fleury went off the rails this year, as he did in the playoffs last year against the Flyers, they would have an alternative. In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass. Last night Bylsma broke the glass.
And he was rewarded. After a shaky first period where he saved all 14 shots he saw but had rebound control issues, Vokoun settled in and gave the Penguins everything they hoped for.
In the second period he got a lot of help.
Tyler Kennedy, another of the new additions to the lineup, scored on a breakaway off a great home run pass by Kris Letang. Kennedy and Joe Vitale, also making his first playoff appearance, brought the speed and energy that had been missing. They were a big part in the Penguins being able to "get to their game."
After Kennedy showed the way, Douglass Murray and Sidney Crosby quickly followed. Crosby scoring a highlight reel goal (assisted by his new winger Jarome Igninla) that was started by the good work of the fourth and final addition to the lineup, Simon Despres. The Penguins would add one in the third and cruise to a comfortable 4-0 victory.
The Penguins and their fans can now breathe a little easier. Saturday will be an elimination game on the island, but it won't be the visitors who will be staring at a long summer. At least not yet.
There is a perception that if the Penguins can get out of the first round, things will start to come a little easier. The matchup with Ottawa, their foe if they get through, looks a little more favorable.
The East's number one seed took a big step last night and the coach and the GM can feel very good about it. More work to do, but last night the coach pressed all the right buttons and he can thank a GM who has given him a ton of options, most importantly, the one in goal.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.