VANCOUVER — The first goal Tomas Vokoun allowed was a bad one. He admitted as much. The second was a rebound goal after he made the first stop. The third? Vokoun said he never saw it.
Three goals on 17 shots, and the Capitals found themselves down two after one. So coach Bruce Boudreau pulled the trigger on a goaltending change, inserting Michal Neuvirth into his first game since Oct. 8.
"I just didn't think Tomas was very sharp," Boudreau said. "He played eight games in a row at a very high level. I thought the first and third goals weren't very good."
That's not exactly how Vokoun or his teammates saw it. When asked about the switch, the Caps talked about how it appeared to be a way for Boudreau to "spark" his team, not an indictment of the veteran goalie.
"Sometimes when you change goaltenders, it has nothing to do with the actual goaltender. It's just to try and give the team a spark, and I think that's what it did," forward Troy Brouwer said. "I feel bad for Tomas because two power-play goals and a tough one from behind the net, which happens. There's not much he could've done — not much better he could've played. He's been unbelievable for us as of late."
The Caps did show off a little jump in the second, tying the score going into the third. Only then did the game fully unravel.
Approached in the locker room after Boudreau's meeting with reporters and asked first for his thoughts on getting pulled, Vokoun brushed it off the same way Brouwer and others did with a "that's hockey" and a shrug.
"It's nothing unusual," he said. "I think [Boudreau] wanted to change the momentum of the game."
When prompted with Boudreau's comment that he wasn't "very sharp," Vokoun disagreed but remained diplomatic. He took responsibility for the first goal, which came from misplaying the puck near the net and resulted in a bank shot by Maxim Lapierre off his skate, but admitted he couldn't do much on the second (a rebound by Chris Higgins) and didn't see the third (a point shot through screens by Alexander Edler).
"You know what, actually I felt pretty good, honestly," Vokoun said. "You know what, he's got a better view of it than me, and I'm playing, so I can't really see myself. Internally I didn't feel bad. Obviously it was 3-1, so coach made a change. That's his decision."
It was a decision that players figured was made as a source of motivation for the team as a whole.
"Usually when coaches do that, they're trying to spark the team or change the momentum of the game or whatever," defenseman Dennis Wideman said.
Neuvirth allowed four goals on 26 shots in his first game back from a bruised right heel he suffered at the morning skate on Oct. 10.
As part of his answer about making the change, Boudreau pointed to Neuvirth as one of the reasons, in addition to Vokoun's play.
"I thought this was as good time as any, and Neuvy was sharp in practice. This was as good a time as any to get him involved in the game again," he said.
Earlier Saturday, Boudreau explained that he was starting Vokoun in Vancouver because he had allowed two goals or fewer in seven straight games — and because he didn't want to throw Neuvirth in right away.
"Michal had two good practices under his belt in the last two weeks," Boudreau said Saturday morning. "You'd like to see him have another good one or two before he gets a chance to play again."
Neuvirth didn't get that time, instead replacing Vokoun at the start of the second period. The 23-year-old goaltender was not made available to reporters after the game.
There was some disagreement in the visiting locker room as far as the effectiveness of the change, with Mike Knuble pointing out that the Caps rebounded in the second and "turned it into a 20-minute game" before the Canucks steamrolled them.
But Wideman, asked about how he felt the team responded, was frank in his evaluation.
"We gave up a lot more goals," he said.
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