There was a lot of speculation about the Penguins’ goaltending situation prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday. Would coach Dan Bylsma go with Tomas Vokoun, who was pulled in the first period of Game 2 in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury?
Would he give Fleury a shot even though he hadn’t started since Game 4 of the Islanders series in the conference quarterfinals?
It seemed reasonable, given Fleury’s earlier struggles, that the Penguins’ best chance was with Vokoun, and that is what Bylsma opted for.
Turned out, he was right on the money. Vokoun made 41 saves, many of them excellent. Even though the Bruins earned the 2-1 victory in double overtime, Vokoun was a very effective presence in net.
So it was no surprise that Bylsma went back to Vokoun for Friday’s Game 4 at TD Garden in hopes of avoiding a sweep. Vokoun lived up to his end of the bargain with 23 saves but he wasn’t perfect and his team needed him to be. Adam McQuaid’s goal at 5:01 of the third period was the winner in the Bruins’ 1-0 victory that ended Pittsburgh’s season.
“It’s a shock,’’ said Vokoun. “You go through the series and you want to win. I don’t think words can describe it. You go through the season with a team like we had and it’s very disappointing. Only one team can win and it’s not going to be us.’’
When asked what went wrong, Vokoun said it was too early to say, the feelings were just too raw.
“The easy way is to say we didn’t score enough,’’ said Vokoun, whose teammates produced just two goals in the series. “But I think we have to look at it and give it a little bit more time. When you lose 4-0, it’s tough. Except one game, all the games were close. We just weren’t able to make it count when we needed it and we lost.’’
Bylsma said Vokoun just didn’t get the support.
“Tomas, I thought, was two goals short of brilliant,’’ said Bylsma. “Two goals short of Tuukka Rask in these [last] two games. He was great. Not as many saves as Rask in Game 3 but he was equally up to the task and he was again tonight. I thought he played outstanding. It was dueling goaltenders there for a lot of Games 3 and 4.’’
Out of reach
The Penguins went into this series with all kinds of playoff milestones seemingly reachable. Captain Sidney Crosby was 1 point from tying Kevin Stevens for third place on the franchise’s all-time point list with 106. Crosby was three assists from tying Ron Francis for third in franchise history with 68. Forward Evgeni Malkin was 3 points from reaching the 100-point mark. And defenseman Kris Letang was two goals from tying Larry Murphy for first place on the franchise list for defensemen with 15. In the four games, though, not one of them had a single point. The only two Penguins goals were scored by Brandon Sutter and Chris Kunitz. Kunitz’s goal gave him 43 postseason points, one shy of tying Sergei Gonchar for 10th place on the franchise’s all-time list. “You look back at the games and we knew we didn’t have very good effort in Pittsburgh,’’ said Kunitz. “We needed to do better. You can’t let games like that slip away from you. We knew that the series was going to be like the games here, one-goal games. Take one in overtime. If you don’t get the bounce, at least you are coming out and playing hard.’’ . . . The total time of the four series was 275 minutes, 19 seconds. The teams were tied for 122:02, and the Penguins never had the lead.
Malkin finished the series leading his team in shots with 21, 10 of them in Game 3 and just one in Game 4. Crosby had 13. James Neal, who was on a tear before this series with five goals and two assists in the final two games against Ottawa, had 15 shots in the first three games and added five Friday night. The much-coveted Jarome Iginla had a total of five shots in the series and was a nonfactor.
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.