UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- You would guess that when the first Islanders goal of Game 4 was the approximate length of a garden hose, it was a pretty clear indication Tuesday was not going to be a great night for the Penguins goaltender.
Marc-Andre Fleury has started every Penguins playoff game since 2007, all 78 of them, more than any of his teammates.
But the time has come for another man in another mask with another level of confidence. Perhaps any level of confidence.
Fourteen goals in past three games are enough to convict the Flower of malfeasance by themselves, but the quizzical nature of too many of them and the pratfall punctuation Fleury keeps putting on them shouldn't be tolerated for another shift.
Tomas Vokoun should start Game 5 Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, and stay there until coach Dan Bylsma suspects he is not the superior choice right now to the franchise goalie.
"I'm not happy, that's for sure," Fleury whispered in stunned and edgy Penguins dressing room. "It's frustrating."
Perhaps sensing Fleury's anguish, someone asked a question about bad bounces.
"That's gonna happen," he said.
Yeah, and that's not all.
The Penguins had nowhere to turn in this situation a year ago against Philadelphia, as the Flyers put bushels of pucks past Fleury and upset the Penguins in six first-round games. I believe that's why they acquired Vokoun, who has been more than just a solid alternative all winter.
Game 5 represents, in this view, the precise situation for which he was acquired. The Penguins again, owing to a jittery performance by Fleury, find themselves fighting for their playoff lives.
Vokoun played four games against this Islanders this season. He's 3-0, including a shutout, and has 0.90 goals against average.
"I don't know," said New York defenseman Travis Hamonic when I asked if the Islanders were inside Fleury's head, "you'd have to ask him, but it's a lot of fun because it was a pretty good rivalry before with these guys and we're not taking anything for away from them. They're playing good hockey but so are we. It's a best of three. You play all season for this and there aren't many times you get to play for the Stanley Cup."
Yeah, you heard that right. The eighth-seeded team thinks it's playing for the Stanley Cup, which would sound implausible if not for the number and nature of the goals it keeps piling up.
Brian Strait wasn't exactly trying to light the lamp when he collected the puck near the left point in the first period, but he blasted it off the stick of Tanner Glass, from where it spun over the left shoulder of Brandon Sutter, fluttered past the left arm of Kris Letang, somehow avoided every stitch of uniform and equipment on Fleury's person, and settled into the net.
That's a 50-footer ladies and gents.
"We just made it a plan to throw as many pucks as possible at him," Strait said. "I just saw a lane and I just wanted to get it through. As a defenseman you just want to get it past the first guy. Sometimes things like that happen."
Things like that, really?
No, not things like that.
Unless you want to talk about the third New York goal, the one Kyle Okposo swept from the rear boards toward the post to Fleury's left. Fleury had turned to face Okposo, saw the puck's approach, but somehow couldn't collect it and wound up bumping it into the net.
And that was probably better than the sixth goal, the one Casey Cizikas carried unimpeded from the right circle and slid it into the far corner as Fleury clung to the near post like a cat on the curtains, descending only to roll over on his back, kicking at the net.
If there were a caption for that, it would read, "Somebody get me outta here!"
That's what Bylsma has to do.
Collectively, the Penguins are not exactly on their back in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal, but they may be on their front, as they are certainly not upright.
For the first time in the past three games, they failed to blow a two-goal lead Tuesday night, but they did blow two one-goal leads for the sake of consistency. They did little about the constant pressure up ice from the New York forwards and helped them out with turnovers in the defensive zone, none more damaging than when Evgeni Malkin gave the puck away to John Tavares on the inner arc of the right circle. Tavares rammed it into Fleury, who burped it up so that Tavares could bury the rebound and snap a 4-4 tie at 10:11 of the third period.
Someone asked Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov, himself not much more than a survivor in this high-scoring series, if he was surprised at how wide open the play has been.
He didn't hesitate.
"You remember last year, their series?"
I don't have to remember it; I'm watching it again.
Gene Collier: email@example.com.