Vokoun saves winning streak as Penguins beat Boston

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The Penguins entered the weekend with two goaltenders on the cusp of reaching major statistical milestones.

One made it.

The other had to settle for being the primary reason his team stretched its winning streak to nine games -- the fifth longest in franchise history -- by beating one of the league's elite teams for the second time in six days.

Which, all in all, isn't a bad consolation prize.

Just one day after Marc-Andre Fleury set a franchise record by recording his 23rd career shutout, Tomas Vokoun stopped 31 of 32 shots to make the Penguins' 2-1 victory possible Sunday against Boston at Consol Energy Center.

"He was huge for us," defenseman Mark Eaton said.

If not for an unfortunate bounce late in the first period, Vokoun might have been able to record his 50th career shutout, something only 25 goaltenders in NHL history have managed.

Boston got its lone goal when Tyler Seguin threw the puck into an open left side of the net after a deflected Johnny Boychuk shot from the right point caromed off the skate of Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron and went directly to Seguin in the left circle.

"It's a bad break," Vokoun said. "You can live with those."

Vokoun ended up being considerably busier than he likely anticipated, mostly because the Penguins played the final two periods without their top defenseman, Kris Letang.

He left the game after apparently aggravating a leg injury teammates said has been nagging him for some time.

Initial indications had been that he was hurt by a slash on the left arm from Boston left winger Brad Marchand, but that does not appear to be the cause of Letang's problem.

Although the Penguins have not offered a formal prognosis, there is no indication that Letang will be out for an extended period, or even that he will not be available for the Penguins' game Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins have adjusted their schedule and will not practice today, so his status likely will remain murky until at least Tuesday in a game-day skate.

The Penguins already are missing center Evgeni Malkin, who has sat out five consecutive games because of an unspecified injury. His status for the Capitals game also remains unclear.

What isn't in doubt is that the Penguins have made considerable progress toward patching some of the holes in what had become a porous team defense, limiting their past five opponents to a total of five goals.

That kind of pace can't be sustained indefinitely, but it's compelling evidence of their renewed emphasis on playing well defensively.

"Some nights, it's still going to be 5-4, because guys are going to make great plays, and goals are going to go in, there is going to be some bad luck," Vokoun said. "But I think that, for the most part, you see this bunch of games, we don't give up two-on-ones, breakaways, no wide-open [shots], empty-net goals."

Vokoun, who sputtered through a stretch in which he lost two consecutive starts and was pulled from a third, has won his past four starts, giving up only two goals in the past three.

He has been his team's go-to guy for most of his career, and acknowledged that he has had to get acclimated to the reduced workload that goes with being Fleury's backup.

"It's always an adjustment when you're used to playing [as a No. 1]," he said. "When you have a bad game, you play the next game again and you can play your way out of it. When you don't play like that, it's a little bit harder."

While Boston launched 32 shots at Vokoun, the Penguins managed only 18 on Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. That was the fewest they have generated since getting 16 Jan. 30, 2009 at New Jersey.

Part of the reason for that was that, with Letang missing, Boston stressed getting the puck into the Penguins zone and trying to wear down their remaining defensemen. That held down the amount of time the Penguins spent in the Bruins zone.

"Anytime their defensive corps is short, you always want to play down low in their end," Marchand said. "It's something we tried to do. We got opportunities."

The Bruins didn't get anything to show for their work, though.

And, at least in this game, that was enough of a reward for Vokoun.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter: @MolinariPG. First Published March 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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