Cook: Vokoun is fine, but it's time to go back to Fleury


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There are good reasons to stick with Tomas Vokoun. He has been outstanding for the Penguins since he took over for Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 4 of the New York Islanders series. It's not as if he played poorly Saturday night in the 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins. He doesn't deserve to be benched. He has done nothing wrong. Making a change in goal now could be construed by the players as a sign of panic by coach Dan Bylsma after just one game of the Eastern Conference final series.

Terrific reasons.

Bylsma still should start Fleury in Game 2 tonight.

The time is right.

Bylsma was typically noncommittal Sunday when asked if he had expectations of going back to Fleury at some point after he replaced him with Vokoun. He praised Vokoun's work against the Bruins, saying he was "strong in the game ... He made big saves." He said his choice of goaltenders wouldn't be based on one win or one loss. But then he said, almost as an afterthought, "I have confidence in Marc-Andre Fleury as a goalie. I'm confident what he can do when he gets in there."

So go figure.

I'm thinking Bylsma will stick with Vokoun at least for one more game.

That might be hard to argue, but it just doesn't feel right.

It has nothing to do with Vokoun. He saved Fleury and the Penguins against the Islanders. He played well against the Ottawa Senators, his only loss in the five-game series coming in double overtime in Game 3, 2-1. The goals he gave up to the Bruins were not entirely his fault. One was a deflection. Another was off a crazy rebound that bounced high in the air. The third was the result of a defensive breakdown.

But the belief here is that Vokoun has carried the Penguins about as far as he's going to take them. I'd rather get him out one game too soon than one game too late, especially now with the team down in a series for the first time this postseason. Vokoun came to the Penguins to be the backup. Fleury is the franchise goaltender. Many are down on him because he had a bad Game 4 against the Islanders. They forget that he went 23-8 in the regular season. There is no arguing he is the Penguins' best in net. Don't you want to play the best guy when the games mean so much? Lose with the best, you can sleep with yourself. But lose with the backup? There's no way.

The Penguins will rally around Fleury when he plays again. It's not just because they adore him as a teammate. He ended up getting benched against the Islanders, but they -- to a man -- feel like they sabotaged him with poor play around him. Have you heard captain Sidney Crosby after each of Vokoun's six wins in these playoffs? He gives Vokoun his due but always points out the team "made it a little easier" on him than it did on Fleury. The players won't take it as a sign of panic if Bylsma goes with Fleury. They will be excited.

The Consol Energy Center crowd also will rally around Fleury. Go back to Nov. 12, 2010, a Friday night hockey night in Pittsburgh. Fleury got the start against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had been awful in the first month of the season, winning just one of his first eight starts. He had been benched in his previous start at Phoenix after giving up two early goals.

But the home crowd wrapped its arms around Fleury even before the Tampa Bay game started. Chants of "Fleur-ry! Fleur-ry!" filled Consol. Fleury talked afterward about how the support was uplifting. He made 15 saves in a 5-1 win. The game turned around his season.

The Consol crowd will show Fleury the same love and much more if he somehow gets the call tonight.

Not that Fleury needs extra motivation.

The man is competitive. He might not always look it because he wears his ball cap backward and usually has a goofy smile that makes him look 18 rather than 28. But his demotion in these playoffs after 79 consecutive postseason starts, taking the Penguins to the Stanley Cup final in 2008 and putting his name on the Cup in 2009 has to be killing him. He has been a great teammate this spring, to no surprise. He has supported Vokoun and not issued one gripe about his situation. But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to play. He absolutely does. He wants to prove again that he is an elite goaltender.

Now is the time for Bylsma to give Fleury that chance.

mobilehome - penguins - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published June 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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