Penguins backup Vokoun knew he had to be ready to play

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It might have been the empathy talking.

After all, no one can understand a goaltender's strains and stresses as well as another goalie.

Still, the way Tomas Vokoun talked before Game 5 of the Penguins' Eastern Conference opening-round playoff series against the New York Islanders Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, it wasn't clear that his choice to start in goal would have been, well, Tomas Vokoun.

Not because he was reluctant to get into a playoff game for the first time since 2007. Quite the opposite, actually.

But Vokoun clearly didn't agree with the torrent of criticism that had been directed at his partner, No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who lost his starting job after allowing 14 goals in the previous three games.

"It's easy to blame one person," Vokoun said. "As a goalie, I know firsthand how hard it is. Sometimes, even if you do the right things, things just don't go your way."

That certainly wasn't the case for Vokoun in Game 5, as he stopped 31 shots in a 4-0 victory that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead in the series.

Vokoun's second career playoff shutout came in just his 12th NHL postseason appearance and his first in six years, since he was with Nashville.

"I wasn't sure if I'd ever get the chance to play again in the playoffs," he said.

Had Round 1 played out the way the Penguins hoped, Vokoun would have done nothing more strenuous on game nights than congratulate and encourage his teammates.

The idea before the Islanders series began had been for the Penguins to ride Fleury as far as he would take them.

But after turning aside all 26 Islanders shots in Game 1, Fleury let in 14 goals -- some of which he had no chance to stop, others of which seemed like they should have had no chance to get past him -- in the three that followed.

"Some of those goals were tough breaks," Vokoun said. "I thought he looked good. He wasn't guessing. It wasn't like he was getting beat on straight shots. Some were deflections off [other players'] body."

Vokoun's generous analysis aside, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma concluded with the series reduced to a best of three, Vokoun gave the Penguins their best chance to reach the next round and made the switch.

While that move was well-received by a large segment of the Penguins fan base, it's worth noting that Vokoun declined to buy into the notion of "Pin The Fail On The Goalie" that has been so popular in these parts of late.

"[Fleury] is definitely not the reason we are where we [were before Game 5]," he said. "We didn't play well. We just didn't play our game.

"If you look at the games, we gave up way too much [in the way of scoring chances]. We set ourselves up for the games being 50-50, basically."

Vokoun said he learned Wednesday, before the start of a workout for players who had been used sparingly, or not at all, in the series that he was playing in Game 5.

The change in his duties, though, did not affect the way Vokoun prepared, if only because he had tried to be ready if called upon at any point.

"Just like I was working on being ready for Game 1 or Game 2 or Game 3," he said. "You get ready even when you don't play. This is the playoffs.

"You can't leave it to chance. You never know."

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Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 10, 2013 4:00 AM


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