Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played Monday night for the first time in nearly a month.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Who would have thought a goaltending controversy would be the least of the Penguins' problems going into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final against Boston?
That's if, in fact, there is a controversy after a widespread collapse Monday in a 6-1 loss in Game 2 that left the Penguins' backs against the wall.
They are down, 2-0, in the series and have been outscored, 9-1.
The goaltending wasn't superb in Game 2, with Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury each giving up three goals, but it was hardly the Penguins' only problem as there were lapses and giveaways all over the ice.
"It's tough to evaluate [the goalies] given the breakdowns and the scoring chances they scored on with both goalies," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Up to this point, the biggest question concerning the goaltenders seemed to be whether Vokoun, the veteran backup, would continue to play or if Fleury, the franchise goalie, would earn the starting job back.
Now, the question at that position probably comes down to which goaltender, if either, can help the team climb out of a deep hole in the series.
Bylsma wouldn't tip his hand about who will start Game 3 Wednesday in Boston.
"Everyone we put on the ice for Game 3 is going to be giving us the best chance to win the hockey game," he said.
The goalies weren't doing any lobbying.
"Don't ask me," Fleury said.
"That's a coach's decision," Vokoun said. "I'm a player. I'm ready to play anytime they tell me to."
Fleury, 28, played the first four games of the playoffs in the series against the New York Islanders. He was 2-2 with a 3.40 goals-against average and an .891 save percentage.
Bylsma made some lineup changes for Game 5 against the Islanders. He got an offensive spark from forwards Joe Vitale and Tyler Kennedy, and the team got a win from Vokoun, 36.
And another in Game 6 to close out that series.
And four wins in five games against Ottawa in the second round.
Even with eight days between the end of the Senators series and the beginning of this one, Bylsma stuck with Vokoun.
And even with a 3-0 loss in Game 1, he came back with Vokoun.
Until, that is, the Bruins scored three times in the first period Monday night.
It was after the third goal -- a nice shot, low and to the short side, by David Krejci from the inner edge of the left circle at 16:31 -- that Bylsma pulled Vokoun for Fleury.
"When you're not stopping the puck, they're going to make the change," Vokoun said. "It's part of being a goalie. Sometimes that happens."
Fans at Consol Energy Center have embraced Vokoun during his playoff run, chanting "Vo-kooouuun" after good saves.
But when Fleury began putting on his mask and getting ready to enter the game, the crowd switched to cries of "Fleur-ry!"
It was Fleury's first appearance in a game since May 7.
"I felt a little bit rusty," he said. "It's been awhile. To jump into a playoff game is a little different than practice."
Fleury faced just one shot the rest of the first period, and it was a goal by Brad Marchand on an unscreened shot from the top of the left circle -- that came 14 seconds after Brandon Sutter scored for the Penguins -- to give Boston a 4-1 lead.
He gave up two more goals, to Patrice Bergeron as Fleury stretched to his right for Boston's fifth goal 27 seconds into the third period, and to Johnny Boychuk with 1:24 left.
Fleury said over time he felt "a little bit better. The speed of the game -- it was fast at first."
Often upbeat, Fleury -- like his teammates -- was downcast, but was not willing to concede.
"Definitely not where we want to be, but we have a lot of experience in the [locker] room," he said. "A lot of guys have been down and won a series before. Just put those two [games] behind us."
Asked if he believes the Penguins can rally to win the series, Fleury said, "Yeah, for sure. Nobody's going to quit."
It remains to be seen which player will be in goal not quitting with the rest.