After what he termed an “ugly” performance in his debut with Washington earlier this week, Tomas Vokoun said he promised he would return the favor his teammates had done him in that first game by helping him capture a win. On Thursday night in Pittsburgh, Vokoun made good on that promise.
Vokoun made 39 saves in a game that the Penguins dominated for long stretches of time, outshooting Washington 41-19, allowing his team to capture its third straight win with a 3-2 overtime victory against its biggest rival. If not for the fight between Jay Beagle and Arron Asham, and the gestures that came after it, the veteran netminder would have been the story of the game.
“He was pretty good tonight,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “They had an awful lot of shots and an awful lot of close-in attempts and he was there for every one except for two. We may not have had the territorial edge or what have you, but sometimes you need goalies to steal you a game and tonight Tomas stole us a game.”
This was Vokoun’s introduction to the Capitals-Penguins rivalry, and the long-established fervent dislike between two high-caliber teams was something he had never quite experienced.
“Maybe because I was in Florida, I didn’t feel they were as fast when I play for Florida,” Vokoun said of the atmosphere and the Penguins’ intensity. “It’s obviously they get for game like this up more too than they probably get, usually. They play hard. You’ve got to give them credit and they took it to us some times.”
Vokoun gave up a goal on the first shot of the game for the second straight contest, but after this tally, the Czech native grew more stoic. As Pittsburgh created constant scoring chances and hemmed Washington in its own end, Vokoun steadied the ship.
“He was the difference for us,” Mike Knuble said. “Even in the first period we finished 1-0 — could have been down three or four after the first. Then he made some big saves in the third, too, when they really started to gain some momentum and pushed back against us. He was a big factor tonight.”
Washington responded with a stronger second period, tied the game and then jumped out to take a 2-1 lead very early (40 seconds) into the third. But when the Capitals started to focus more on protecting their lead rather than expanding upon it and Pittsburgh regained momentum after the fight, Vokoun was there. He stopped all but one of the 18 shots he faced in the third.
“Like I said last time, after last game I didn’t have a good game and the guys have unbelievable game and pull me through — we won the game,” Vokoun said. “Today, hopefully I help pulled a little bit them to stay in the game, that’s what team is about.
“It’s not always going to be perfect, not everybody going to have their night but it’s important for us [when] something’s not working, either penalty killing, power play steps up or vice versa,” Vokoun continued. “Guys do whatever’s necessary to win. Today, obviously, it wasn’t our best game but we won the game and that’s most important.”