Tomas Vokoun had forgotten what it was like to start in the playoffs. Tyler Kennedy wondered if he’d ever get the chance again.
That’s never an issue for Sidney Crosby, who followed the lead of his decidedly less-heralded teammates to establish a bit of order to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round series with the New York Islanders.
Vokoun stopped 31 shots in his first postseason appearance in six years, Kennedy broke a scoreless tie with a sizzling breakaway and Crosby delivered another magical goal in a career stuffed with them. The Penguins beat the Islanders 4-0 in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Kris Letang and Doug Murray also scored for Pittsburgh, which finally looked like the team that rolled to the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
Game 6 is Saturday in New York. Another 60 minutes like the Penguins put together on Thursday and a Game 7 won’t be required.
“They played harder than us,” New York coach Jack Capuano said. “The better team won tonight. They deserved the hockey game.”
One the Penguins desperately needed after the Islanders evened the series 2-2 with a wild 6-4 victory in Game 4 that appeared to have the top seed reeling.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma grew so frustrated watching eighth-seeded New York overwhelm goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury that Bylsma benched the Stanley Cup winner — who had made 79 consecutive playoff starts — in favor of Vokoun, a 36-year-old journeyman who has never made it out of the first round of the postseason in his career.
Vokoun is three periods away now after shutting out the Islanders for the second time this season. Not bad for a guy starting his first playoff game since April 20, 2007 while playing for Nashville.
“I was a little bit nervous the whole day; you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t,” Vokoun said.
It didn’t look like it once the puck dropped. Vokoun didn’t budge when the Islanders dominated the first period, turning aside 14 shots in the first 20 minutes as the Penguins tried to gain their bearings with a new lineup designed to cut down New York’s speed advantage.
Though Bylsma’s biggest change was inserting Vokoun in place of Fleury, he also scratched defenseman Mark Eaton and forwards Jussi Jokinen and Tanner Glass in favor of younger, quicker skaters Simon Despres, Joe Vitale and Kennedy.
The moves paid off handsomely.
Kennedy, squeezed out of the rotation by the influx of veterans brought in at the trade deadline, gave the Penguins the confidence boost they needed 7:25 into the second period.
The play began innocently enough in Pittsburgh’s end before Letang hit Kennedy with a pinpoint 80-foot stretch pass right up the middle of the ice. Kennedy greedily accepted the puck at New York’s blue line, then flipped a wrist shot over Evgeni Nabokov’s glove to give Pittsburgh the lead.
The score seemed to rattle Nabokov. Murray loped in a lazy wrist shot from the point that Nabokov tried to glove only to have the puck slip out of his left hand, over his back and into the net.