It Took More Than A Goaltending Change
Just a little over a week ago, Marc-Andre Fleury stepped into the playoffs and posted a shutout as his teammates netted five goals in support. In the three games that followed, Fleury allowed 14 goals and looked a mess.
So Tomas Vokoun entered the scene and mirrored Fleury’s initial shutout, while his teammates netted four goals in support.
Look familiar? It should. And not because the score indicates a lopsided game.
Instead, what looked most familiar was that the Penguins played as a team hungry for a win.
A goaltending change was inevitable, and it’s a move that paid dividends, as Vokoun looked much sharper than Fleury has in any game other than the first.
But it took more than a goaltending change to get such a positive result for a team that had grown complacent.
Coach Dan Bylsma finally stepped to the plate and adjusted his roster to counter the New York Islanders’ speed.
Out were slower fourth liner Tanner Glass and Jussi Jokinen and in were speedsters Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale.
And adjusted were the top two lines. The slower Jarome Iginla was shifted to his natural wing and placed with speedy linemates Pascal Dupuis and Sidney Crosby, while the tenacious Chris Kunitz was reunited with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.
The payout came midway through the second when Kennedy scored what might come to be known as the goal that shaped the playoffs for the Penguins.
It was a beautifully-executed long breakaway that was a direct result of Kennedy’s skating ability — something neither Jokinen nor Glass bring to the table.
The payout continued as the game progressed, with Iginla feeding Crosby a pass that led to a near-identical goal to Mario’s bronze statue goal.
And the payout lasted throughout the game, as the lines — balanced with speed, skill, and grit — were able to create and sustain pressure, keeping the Islanders bottled up in their own end and preventing them from creating havoc as they had done throughout the series.
Yet, it was even more than all of that. It was more than the goaltending change, the lineup substitutions, and the line adjustments.
It was a change of attitude.
The Penguins will say until they are blue in the face that they were prepared for what the Islanders would bring to the table and that they weren’t overlooking what most considered to be a push-over opponent.
But they’d be lying through their teeth.
They weren’t ready for a long series, nor were they ready for the Islanders to put up any semblance of a fight.
Through Game 4, the Penguins played like a team looking to the second round. The goaltending was bad , the defense was poor, the offense was lazy, and the coaching was indifferent.
That all changed, though, as the best-of-seven series tied up at four and became a best-of-three series. The possibility of a first round elimination became real, and the switch was flipped.
The goaltending improved, but so did the effort of all 19 players who took the ice.
Make no mistake. This series isn’t over, and the Islanders surely will put up a fight as they return to Long Island for Game 6.
Hopefully the Penguins have learned their lesson from the last time they beat the Islanders handily in this series.