Penguins confident Vokoun ready to go

PITTSBURGH -- If there is a feeling of history surrounding the decision to bench Pittsburgh Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury for the first time in the playoffs, that sense of history cuts deeper than just the ending of a personal streak.

True, Fleury has started every Penguins playoff game since he came into the NHL, a stretch of 79 postseason games that includes the team's runs to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009.

But for veteran netminder Tomas Vokoun, there is also a sense of history in being the man who will start in Fleury's place in a pivotal fifth game against the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Vokoun, 36, will step into the crease in a playoff game for the first time since 2007, and he conceded Thursday morning that he didn't think he'd ever have that experience again.

"For me, I'm going to enjoy it," he said. "I wasn't sure if I was ever going to get the chance to play again in the playoffs. It’s nice to have the chance. Like I said, you play hockey to be in these moments; you don't play hockey to go for morning skate and take shots and do that."

Does he expect to have some nerves?


"Everybody is nervous," Vokoun said. "You wouldn't be human if we weren't. But I play long enough and I've been through a lot, so hopefully that'll help carry me through it."

The native of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic was signed by the Washington Capitals before the 2011-12 season in the hopes he would provide veteran guidance for a team looking to get over the playoff hump. He was injured, however, and missed the postseason.

He signed with the Penguins in the offseason to act as an insurance policy against the possibility that Fleury found himself repeating last year's playoff disaster against the Philadelphia Flyers.

That possibility became reality in the past three games, as Fleury allowed 14 goals and the Islanders bounced back to tie the series 2-2.

The fact Vokoun won all three starts against the Islanders this season is moot.

"This is going to be a whole lot different game than Game 35 in regular season, so I'm focusing on myself," Vokoun said. "I don't even care who we play.

"If you play your game, you've got to believe it's good enough for you to be successful. That's more key for me than looking at who's our opponent and what they’re doing."

Vokoun noted that he and Fleury are close and that sometimes things just don't go your way.

"He wasn't guessing, and it wasn't like he was getting beat on straight shots," Vokoun said. "I think he didn't look like he was nervous or anything like that. I told him I thought he looked good and the puck went in. Sometimes that is going to happen.

"Some of the games I went in, I feel the best and I ended up getting pulled, and some games you are in the warm-up and you are like, 'Oh my god! I'm not able to stop anything,' and you get a shutout. It's funny sometimes how things work out for goalies. The toughest thing is there is nobody to help you."

Still, Vokoun has a job to do. He said he and Fleury will deal with whatever happens after they get through this.

Fleury, naturally, took the news hard.

"Losing, that's what's hard," he said Thursday morning. "That's what sucks, you know?"

He said Vokoun has been terrific against the Islanders this season and that he is confident the veteran netminder will be fine.

"I'm sure he will be great tonight," Fleury said.

As for the decision to make the switch, Fleury said he understands.

"A lot of goals, you know?" he said. "My job's to stop the puck. It's frustrating. I wish I would have done better, but I guess it's in the past.

"Looking forward to another shot. But not tonight."

If this move does not prompt a lot of self-assessment throughout the Penguins' lineup, it's hard to imagine what would.

The Islanders have not just exploited Fleury. They have turned careless turnovers by Pittsburgh into quality scoring chances and goals. They have continued to show impressive push-back in the face of the highly skilled Penguins.

"He's played great for us every chance that he's gotten," Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton said of Vokoun. "In the same sense it's a wake-up call for us as well, because by no means can you fault [Fleury]. It's us in front of him, so it energizes us to get playing better."

From the Islanders' perspective, the move is a reflection of how they have managed to dictate so much of what has happened in this most curious of series.

Just don't expect them to change what they've been doing just because the familiar No. 29 is not between the pipes for the Penguins.

"For us, we can't focus on one individual," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "For us, our mindset can't change."