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Tomas Vokoun is the fist goalie off the ice at the morning skate. Strongly suggests he will get the start tonight in game 1 against Ottawa. 7:38 faceoff at the Consol Energy Center.
Ok, prediction time. Who you got in #Penguins-#Senators and in how many? To start the playoffs the Penguins were focused on "4" and achieved their goal getting past the Islanders in six. It was tougher than virtually everyone expected, but credit the Isles, don't dismiss the Pens. I think it gets easier. Penguins in five.
Just as everyone predicted the Pittsburgh Penguins moved on to round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs, though few saw their series against the New York Islanders playing out the way it did after Marc-Andre Fleury whitewashed the Isles 5-0 in game 1.
Last Thursday, with the series surprisingly deadlocked at two, Dan Bylsma was forced to call on his back-up goalie, Tomas Vokoun. As I wrote last week, it was an act of desperation, but Ray Shero had ensured his team was equipped to deal with Marc-Andre Fleury wilting, as he had in last year’s first round, by trading for and signing Vokoun in one of the off-season’s more prescient and under-appreciated deals. Vokoun was a solid option and he shined when summoned.
Vokoun stoned the Isles 4-0 in game five and came back Saturday and led the Pens to a 4-3 overtime victory. In the clincher Pittsburgh was outshot 38-21 and was outplayed for all but the last five minutes of regulation and a few minutes of OT. No single player was more important in slamming the door on the upstart Isles than Vokoun. Down 3-2 in the third he stopped two 2 v 1s and then made more big saves during #freehockey before Brooks Orpik sent the raucous Nassau crowd home, maybe for the last time ever, and the Pens onto a match-up with the Ottawa Senators. #TomasTime was a huge success.
Now it’s time for Bylsma to go back to Marc-Andre Fleury for game 1 against Ottawa.
Is there risk involved? Sure. Vokoun was great against the Islanders and it’s possible the Penguins would be cleaning out lockers and dusting off golf clubs without him. But Vokoun is the team’s number two goaltender. During the season he was solid in net and provided a steadying influence in the locker room. But coming into this season he had played a total of 11 playoff games, winning three and had never won a series. Marc-Andre Fleury has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice and his name is on the trophy.
Fleury is the team’s best option, their better goalie and he proved that with perhaps the best play of his career during the regular season.
There has been so much talk about “4,” the number of wins needed to get out of the first round, that the big picture has been obscured. The goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins is to win the Stanley Cup, not get to the second round. In the short-term it is important to set sights on smaller objectives, paying attention to the details needed to secure each win. But at the same time the organization has to be mindful of the team’s long-term goals. This team has only one goal for the season. Win the Stanley Cup.
The best chance for the Penguins to win the Cup is to bring Marc-Andre Fleury back into the mix in game 1. Game 1 is not a Super Bowl-type winner-take-all contest. If that were the case, there is no doubt that Tomas Vokoun should be in net. But it isn’t and that’s the key.
The most important thing in Game 1 isn’t winning, it’s seeing if the Pens can get their number one goaltender back on track. If they can, it’s a huge win-win for the team. The have Fleury back, while knowing that they can again turn to a confident and tested Vokoun if necessary.
Sure the leash on Fleury should be short, and if he comes up short again, he’s done. Vokoun is the guy. But let’s ask the question. If not now, when? If Vokoun starts game 1 and then is injured or falters somewhere along the way how comfortable is it going to be to have to call on Fleury?
No, the right move here is obvious. Bring Fleury back. It’s possible it may cost the team a game if he plays poorly, but the risk/reward is skewed heavily in the teams favor. If Fleury reverts to form and plays the way he is capable, not only might he win game 1, he may ultimately win them the Cup.
And that’s the goal and why he should be in it the next time the Penguins take the ice.
Photo Courtesy Of Getty Images.
Setting: April 14, 2008. Game 3. Senators down two games to zero to the Penguins.
Seriously. Somebody approved this. The most ridiculous intro ever. I'm pretty comfortable the Senators won't be breaking it out for this year's matchup.
The Penguins went on to win 4-1 and swept the series 3-1 two days later.
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.
Sid or Mario, who you got? Pretty clear to me. Sid's was better.
Sidney Crosby has had some big shoes to fill ever since he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005. Crosby brought the city of Pittsburgh its third Stanley Cup in 2009 and has done some amazing things on the ice in the process. But on Thursday night, he pulled off a move that seemed all-too-familiar to both the Islanders and Penguins.
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Hockey Talk today coming at you from the Walnut Grill in Fox Chapel. Rob Rossi at 6:10, Paul Steigerwald at 6:40. We'll also have Rob King of Root Sports at 4:30 and Dave Bryan of Steelers Depot at 5:30. Get involved!
Seanson 3, Episode 101 of The Terrible Podcast is up- Dave Bryan and I have plenty to talk about as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for their first OTA session that will take place in a couple of weeks.
Dan Bylsma has announced his goalie for Thursday night and to no one's surprise, it's Tomas Vokoun. It's Tomas Time. His numbers this season against the Isles: 3-0, 0.9 GAA and a .970 save percentage. On the season he's 13-4, with a 2.45 GAA and a .919 save percentage with 3 shutouts. This is why he was signed. Could be the biggest of Ray Shero's moves over the past year.
Being Sidney Crosby affords many privileges.
Living a normal life certainly isn't one of them.
Crosby's latest ordeal — a broken jaw that occurred precisely when the prodigy-turned-icon had again brought the NHL to its knees — is merely the latest example of a gifted, cursed superstar and his quest for peace.