PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) — Don’t say it.
Don’t even think it.
With the Penguins losing Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 3-0, to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, this would appear to be the precise opening the most loyal Marc-Andre Fleury backers needed to shout from the mountaintops that he should play in Game 2.
You can hear them from here to Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, screaming to anyone who will listen that it is, again, Fleury’s time.
Seriously, stop right there.
The goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 against the Bruins should be Tomas Vokoun. And from where I sit, it really isn’t even that much of a debate.
The campaign for Vokoun to start in Game 2 takes two forms — a big picture form and then an explanation as to why what happened on Saturday night against the Bruins, as he absorbed the loss, had little to do with him.
First, from a big picture standpoint, Vokoun has now started eight games in these Stanley Cup playoffs, while Fleury has stared four. In double the chances, Vokoun has lost exactly the same amount of times: two.
Furthermore, Vokoun’s goals-against remains below 2.00 (it is 1.98) while Fleury’s is at 3.40 for the playoffs and Vokoun boasts a higher save percentage, fending off pucks to the tune of a .937 mark while Fleury’s playoff number is .891.
Quite simply, Vokoun has been better in the playoffs.
And not just by a little, by a lot.
As for Game 1 against the Bruins, a game in which Vokoun allowed three goals, a strong case could be made that the abysmal effort on defense in front of him was the principal reason the Bruins head into Monday night’s game with a 1-0 series advantage.
To wit, defensemen Kris Letang and Mark Eaton each had dreadful showings in the series opener. The two committed gaffe after blunder and showed an inability to stabilize the play in front of Vokoun, something each has been able to do at times through the Penguins’ run through the postseason to this point. Letang, for his part, was on the ice for two of the Bruins’ three goals, inexplicably trying to bat the puck out of the air with his stick on one, rather than playing it with his glove.
Such a blunder by a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman falls squarely on him, not on Vokoun.
Additionally, the on-again, off-again affair Evgeni Malkin appears to have with keeping his temper reached a moment of ill-decision making as the second period closed. After the horn blared — and with the Penguins trailing just 1-0 at that point — Malkin decided it was in his (and his team’s) best interest to engage Boston’s Patrice Bergeron.
The two jawed.
The two tussled.
The two ended up punching each other.
The two drew fighting majors to start the third.
To that point, even with the Penguins trailing 1-0, it appeared that Malkin had been the best player on the ice. For Malkin to have a relapse such as that, and put proving a point with his fists ahead of being on the ice is inexcusable.
More so, the Penguins had an existing power play to start the third, making Malkin even more invaluable to his side and, by extension, Vokoun.
Instead, however, he spent the opening 7:10 of the third in the penalty box.
As the Penguins continued to flounder on offense, unable to muster a goal, think his team could have used Malkin on the ice instead of in the penalty box? Uh, yes.
Think Vokoun could have used a player such as Malkin to control the pace of play as opposed to controlling a water bottle in the penalty box? Affirmative.
So make no mistake, Tomas Vokoun lost on Saturday night in Game 1. It says it right there in the stat sheet from this game against the Bruins.
Also understand this: He wasn’t the reason the Penguins lost; far from it.
And by no means does he deserve to be replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 2 on Monday.
Don’t say it.
Don’t even think it.