PITTSBURGH - The Penguins made their bold move in goal and it paid off, with Tomas Vokoun tossing a 31-save shutout in Game 5 Thursday.
The Islanders, pushed to the brink of elimination with the 4-0 loss, may have a goaltending decision of their own to consider before tomorrow night's win-or-go-home Game 6 at the Coliseum.
Evgeni Nabokov allowed four goals, including a very soft second-period goal off the stick of Douglas Murray, and was pulled for the second time in the series. The Isles now need to rally yet again to force a Game 7 back here on Sunday.
"Absolutely," Nabokov said when asked if he needed to be better. "Big saves are always needed, no question." Nabokov has allowed 20 goals in the five games.
Vokoun gave the Penguins some big saves in his first start in place of Marc-Andre Fleury, who allowed 14 goals in the previous three games. Vokoun made 14 saves in the first period. The Islanders didn't get a shot on him until the 7:30 mark, but they carried the play for the remainder of the period and into the second.
"He played well, but we didn't challenge him enough," Brian Strait said. "We didn't get in his face enough."
And with the game scoreless, the Penguins took advantage of some Islanders breakdowns to quickly grab an insurmountable lead.
Brad Boyes drove into the Penguins zone and tried to throw a puck on goal after he curled by the side boards. Kris Letang picked it off and spotted Tyler Kennedy behind the Isles defense; Kennedy beat Nabokov high to the glove side, a goal for the veteran Penguins forward in his playoff debut to give Pittsburgh the lead at 7:25 of the second.
Murray's soft shot 1:22 later did not appear to be screened, but still hit off Nabokov's shoulder, went in the air and landed behind him, just over the goal line, to send the CONSOL Energy Center into a frenzy.
"I have confidence in Nabby," said Jack Capuano, who pulled Nabokov 5:43 into the third after Letang's power-play goal. "With the amount of games we've played and minutes we've played, [pulling him] was something we had to think about."
Aside from Nabokov, the Islanders were not as effective on the forecheck as they'd been in the prior three games. And they were also adjusting to Andrew MacDonald's absence because of a broken hand with a couple of new defensemen (Radek Martinek and Hickey) and new roles for some.
The Isles also lost another key player when Frans Nielsen left the game in the third period with a lower-body injury. There was no immediate word on his availability for Game 6.
"We weren't physical enough, too many turnovers," captain Mark Streit said. "A game like this, we realize what we need to do better. It's 3-2. We're capable of winning [Game 6]."
The Islanders have been down and considered out already this season, especially when they were bobbing around the lower half of the Eastern Conference midway through the season.
Now, with the top-seeded Penguins seemingly in control, the Isles are facing another huge task with very few people thinking they can prolong this series.
"We've been here before, and sometimes this situation brings out the best in us," Colin McDonald said. "We have an opportunity to go back to our building, which we love. It's still best of three. We can do it again."