May 30, 2013
Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images SportTweet
Tomas Vokoun, Nashville’s netminder for nearly a full decade between the 1998-1999 inaugural season all the way to their best season in 2006-2007, finds himself backstopping the Pittsburgh Penguins in their current run in the playoffs heading to the Eastern Conference Finals. If it wasn’t for a few lackluster appearances by then-top goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Islanders, this may not even be a story.
However, Vokoun has been stellar for one of the league’s best teams, going 6-1 in his seven starts (his only loss being an 2-1 overtime loss to the Senators in the Eastern Conference Semifinals) with a 1.85 GAA and a .941 Sv%. Prior to his Game 5 start against the Islanders, Vokoun had previously had a cumulative post-season record of 3-8 with a 2.47 GAA and a .922 Sv%.
So here’s the question…what’s so different now compared to back in his time with the Predators? Especially his last and final season where Nashville was dropped in five games to the San Jose Sharks?
That may seem like a silly question, but let’s take it one step at a time. Currently, Vokoun is playing on a talent-heavy roster with some of the best players in the world ripping up opponents left and right. Sound familiar? For those of you who remember the 2006-2007 Predators team, it should. Nashville had 11 players who registered 10+ goals during the season, including veterans Paul Kariya and JP Dumont who both registered 60+ point seasons. Eight players had 40 or more points (Weber/Arnott/Timonen/Erat/Sullivan/Legwand/Dumont/Kariya) with players like Scott Hartnell and Alexander Radulov just a couple points shy of it. Tomas Vokoun had led the way during the regular season, notching a 27-12-4 record with a 2.40 GAA and a .920 Sv%. Nashville finished with 110 points on the season, by far their highest point total ever and three points shy of the Detroit Red Wings.
Then, the unthinkable happens. Nashville gets bounced from the first round…for the second season in a row…in the same number of games…to the same opponent. Two years in a row, the Predators were defeated by the Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, by far the franchise’s lowest moment prior to that upcoming off-season where the team was nearly moved to Hamilton. Critics thought that with a healthy Tomas Vokoun in net for the Predators and a team that was so offensively potent (fourth in the league in goals forced) and defensively stingy (eighth in the league in goals allowed) would walk over the Sharks, presenting themselves as a true contender for the Stanley Cup that season.
Whatever happened was far from the truth. Chalk it up to poor coaching adjustments or just a complete breakdown of the team, in general, but when looking back on it the results don’t match up to the equation, nor may they ever as time rolls on. Now 36 and aged past his prime, Vokoun is in his 15th season in the NHL and is enjoying quite the renaissance during the Penguins run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With any hope, it may lead him to hockey’s greatest prize by the season’s end.
Is Pittsburgh’s team stacked full of talent? Absolutely so, and it’s part of the reason why he’s enjoying so much success, but how come Fleury couldn’t enjoy the same level of success behind the same exact roster? A new confidence for Vokoun? The sense of getting a chance to accomplish something special on a roster that may be one of the best and deepest in the history of the NHL? Nashville’s roster in 2007 wasn’t anywhere close to the talent-level of this year’s Penguins team, but the question still begs to be asked as to what happened.
Did Vokoun get the rotten side of the pie due to just overall poor play by the team in front of him? Sure, it’s definitely possible. Nashville started the series against the Sharks with a 5-4 double overtime loss in Game 1, after numerous chances including Jordin Tootoo not being able to convert on a gorgeous breakaway that would have given them a 1-0 lead in the series (which would have been 2-0 presuming Game 2 ended the same way it did). Evening the series and heading back to San Jose was all the Predators could ask for after that.
Yet, scoring nine goals in the first two games didn’t amount to squat come Game 3. Nashville was outscored 9-5 in their final three games of the series and went home disappointed and empty handed.
Looking at the present state of affairs with Vokoun playing absolutely inspired hockey with the Penguins and looking back at the disappointing post-season past for Nashville, the questions bubble back up to the surface of a proud yet somewhat bruised franchise when it comes to their playoff history.
Will they ever be answered? No, but that’s just the nature of the beast sometimes.