BOSTON | As if there was any doubt that Tomas Vokoun was the man in goal for the Washington Capitals, when healthy, Dale Hunter erased it Thursday.
Not only did the coach give Vokoun the nod against the Boston Bruins, he made it sound like he didn’t even give any thought to starting Michal Neuvirth or Braden Holtby.
“He’s a veteran and he’s been through these things before. So it’s no question,” Hunter said. “Most of the games he’s been solid for us, given us a chance to win every night.”
“No question” now that Vokoun is back from a groin injury that has bothered him for at least the past three weeks. The 35-year-old has appeared in just 3 of the past 17 games but is good to go now.
Vokoun, who in December referred to himself as a “paid employee” when he didn’t start his South Florida homecoming, said he never expects anything.
“I told them I’m healthwise ready to go,” Vokoun said. “They made their decision. It’s pretty much where it is.”
Vokoun has quietly won 25 of the Caps’ 38 games this season, putting up a goals-against average of 2.53 and save percentage of .916. Those numbers are better than Neuvirth’s and Holtby’s, though the 22-year-old recent call-up doesn’t have a deep body of work this season.
Vokoun was stellar when the Caps beat the Bruins at TD Garden on March 10, stopping 30 of the 33 shots he faced. He knows the kind of traffic patterns Boston can run in front of him, and how not to be bothered by them.
“It’s a tough game against them. They’re a good team and they make it hard on you,” Vokoun said. “It’s not going to be easy. We’ve got to be ready to play, everybody, and it’s a huge game for us.”
And the perfect game for Vokoun, who noted Wednesday he has nothing to save in the tank. This is for the playoffs, for his new contract, for everything.
“I know as a veteran guy regardless if he’s coming off an injury or not. If you’re in a big hockey game, he wants it,” forward Brooks Laich said. “It’s just the competitive nature of guys, and that’s why he’s been around the league. …
“We’ve got a fresh goaltender in there, a guy who’s been watching and jumping at the bit to get back in there. A guy that’s going in there with enthusiasm and experience.”
No hesitation, either, despite the first groin injury of his career. Vokoun did some full-extension saves in practice the past couple days to test it out and said it held up fine.
“You can’t go in worried about that. It feels pretty good,” Vokoun said. “I’m not worried about it. You’re trying to stop the puck; you’re not worried about anything else.”