Tomas Vokoun is a $1.5 million goaltender this season for the Washington Capitals. He was expected to stop the puck like he was getting paid $5 million.
Through an up-and-down season, bad nights and good nights ebbed and flowed. But Wednesday night no amount of money could be placed on how valuable Vokoun was for the Caps.
Making save after save, including two heart-stopping stonewalls of Evgeni Malkin in the third, Vokoun picked up his second shutout of the season in the 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center that vaulted the Caps over their arch rivals and into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
"He was outstanding," forward Matt Hendricks said. "He made all the good saves he had to make, but when we needed him to make that great save, he was there as well. Hats off to Tomas."
Pittsburgh was a beaten team, playing without Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, and it was on the second half of a back-to-back. But the Penguins still enjoyed a shooting gallery through the first two periods and carried much of the play.
But Vokoun thrives on situations in which he sees a lot of rubber, but it was the quality of chances, or lack thereof, that he Caps allowed that he lauded.
"It wasn't scrambly. There was no three-on-ones and breakaways and breakdowns. It's more about playing the right way," Vokoun said. "Pressure maybe they get a shot off a cycle or something, but you don't get those Grade-A scoring chances, odd-man rushes. And usually when you do that, you have a pretty good chance to win."
It doesn't hurt when Vokoun (30 saves) has arguably his best game of the season. With his 46th career shutout he tied the legendary Ken Dryden for 26th all-time in that category. Notably, Dryden didn't play that long, but being mentioned in the same breath is still impressive for the 35-year-old.
"He was making the save that we expect. We feel like we didn't leave him out to dry too many times. He was able to just play his game and concentrate on stopping the puck," forward Mike Knuble said. "We give up some shots, but that's going to happen every night, and that's when you need your goaltender to stop the puck."
In the third period, Malkin had a couple "Grade-A" chances, one from a bad angle that Vokoun hopped up to save and another in the waning minutes he made with his left pad while sprawling in the crease.
Vokoun managed to frustrate the Penguins (six straight losses with six total goals) in the process.
"We did play the right way tonight and, I don't know, Vokoun played well," Pittsburgh winger Pascal Dupuis said. "I think we had a lot of chances on him, a lot of chances to tie it up with two, three, four minutes left and it doesn't seem to find the back of the net right now."
The Penguins had 20 shots through two and probably should have scored despite not a lot of quality.
"He was unreal," rookie defenseman Tomas Kundratek said. "He was wall in the net tonight."
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