The debate that raged through the night about the Penguins' goaltending situation was cleared up in a swift opening sentence Wednesday from coach Dan Bylsma: Tomas Vokoun will start Game 5 of the playoff series Thursday night against the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center instead of Marc-Andre Fleury.
"We brought Tomas Vokoun in to play big games for us and be a goaltender we can count on to go in and play big games," Bylsma said of the veteran goaltender. "He's done that this year for us and been very good against the Islanders in the three games he's played against the Islanders."
The Islanders pulled even at 2-2 in this Eastern Conference opening-round series Tuesday night with a 6-4 win at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
Fleury, who has started every Penguins playoff game since 2007, gave up shaky goals in that loss, including a tying goal that was centered from behind the red line but went off his pad and the clincher late in the third that left him curled in his own net banging his stick against his head in a visible moment of frustration.
It marked the 14th goal he has given up this series, on 128 shots, for a 3.40 goals-against average per game.
A year ago Fleury surrendered 26 goals in six games against Philadelphia in the opening-round series defeat. Then-backup goalie Brent Johnson, plagued by a hip injury and inconsistency in the 2011-12 season, provided little relief, playing only one period in that series.
Vokoun, acquired from Washington in the offseason, has been a more than capable backup this year with a 13-4 record and 2.45 goals-against average. His numbers against the Islanders are more impressive. He's 3-0 with a 0.90 goals-against average, .970 save percentage and one shutout among the wins.
"We're getting a guy who's real capable, a guy going in and being a great goalie for us," Bylsma said.
Neither Vokoun nor Fleury were available for interviews Wednesday.
Vokoun has a 3-8 career playoff record in two stints with the Nashville Predators. Now he will attempt to lead a far more talented roster out of the first-round series against the eighth-seeded team.
"I think every playoff success has a story, and it's not an easy one. It's not just a walk through 16 games and you win a Stanley Cup," Bylsma said. "It's a fight. It's a battle. If there was anticipation that this was going to be easy it wasn't within our room.
"We're in a battle. We're in a series here. They drew even at 2-2. Whether that's adversity, or whatever story line that is, we're in a fight right now. It's a tough series. We're going to have to scratch and claw and fight to get through to get a third win and a fourth win."
An optional skate was cancelled Wednesday, but players who were made available expressed confidence in both goalies prior to Bylsma's announcement.
"We're definitely confident in both of our goalies," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "Marc-Andre is our guy right now, he's the starting goalie in that series. You saw through the season that both guys played really well for us. Obviously, not our call here."
Winger Chris Kunitz said the criticism of Fleury is bothersome, considering the turnovers the team has made in front of him.
"It definitely bothers us. We're a team in there. We support each other," Kunitz said. "Anytime someone is taking a heat for something, it's a team sport. There's a lot of us on the ice that create turnovers that lead to odd-man rushes and shots on net. ... We have to be better in front of our goalie."
Sidney Crosby acknowledged that the game Tuesday was not Fleury's best, but expressed confidence on him despite that.
"I mean, our confidence is there. Obviously, we know it was a tough night. I think we've all had tough nights. I think for us when we have a tough one it's not quite as obvious as when a goalie has a tough one," Crosby said. "He's won a Stanley Cup. He's got a ton of experience. He's shown numerous times he can bounce back. So we're confident in him for sure."
For now, Vokoun and the Penguins will try to pull ahead.
"I think there's just a sense of focus. We know we have to do some things better," Crosby said. "I think people might've expected a different result. I think the whole time we've respected the Islanders, but there's definitely things we know we have to improve on."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published May 9, 2013 4:45 AM