It's hard to overstate the importance of coach Dan Bylsma's decision to switch goaltenders in the middle of the Penguins' Eastern Conference first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
If sitting Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of Tomas Vokoun, beginning with Game 5 at 7:08 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center, works out the way Bylsma hopes, his team should have a pretty good chance of surviving the best-of-three series this has become.
If Vokoun stumbles, or struggles more than Fleury did at times over the past three games, the franchise's focus might shift from chasing a Stanley Cup to evaluating draft prospects. And debating just how extensive its offseason makeover should be.
Goaltending, however, isn't the only variable likely to help sculpt the outcome of this series.
The production of the Penguins' power play might have a major impact on which team reaches Round 2, as well. Based on what has happened heading into Game 5, the Penguins should hope so.
OK, they failed to score on either of their chances with the extra man in a 6-4 Game 4 loss Tuesday on Long Island, ending a team-record run of eight consecutive games with at least one man-advantage goal.
Nonetheless, they are 6 for 15 on the power play, a league-best playoff conversion rate of 40 percent. That success rate is pretty striking. Almost as impressive as the collection of guys who can't get on the No. 1 unit at a given time.
In their first opportunity with the extra man Tuesday, the Penguins deployed Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Paul Martin as the first unit.
No James Neal, who scored nine power-play goals in 40 regular-season games. No Kris Letang, who had been named a Norris Trophy finalist a few hours earlier.
The truth is, if the Penguins sent out everyone qualified to be on the top power play at the same time, they would get a minor penalty for too many men on the ice. Perhaps a few.
"We have two units that could be the first unit in a lot of other places," Martin said.
While the Penguins personnel has all the qualities needed for a productive power play -- everything from skill to grit to creativity to selflessness -- it does not have much experience working together.
Familiarity can make it possible for talents and styles to mesh fully, although the Penguins' power-play crew should be accustomed to having a rotating cast of co-workers.
"We've probably gotten used to that a bit," Crosby said. "It's not something that's totally new for us. We understand there could be different guys in there."
New York's penalty-killing tied for 20th in the league in the regular season, and center Frans Nielsen said its troubles in this series largely have been self-inflicted.
"They have good players, skilled players, but we looked over their goals [from a 5-4 Penguins overtime victory in Game 3, when their power play was 3 for 5], and it's mistakes from us," Nielsen said. "Credit them for taking advantage of the small mistakes we make."
Game 4 marked the first time since Iginla joined the Penguins that every candidate for the No. 1 unit was healthy at the same time. The unit generated some excellent pressure and scoring opportunities, even though they didn't get a goal.
"You just have to go out there and work," Kunitz said. "And, if the puck goes in, it goes in."
And if it does, it can change the course of a series.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 9, 2013 4:30 AM