- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

The Bronx cheers filled the air at Verizon Center when Tomas Vokoun made a routine save. This was his Capitals debut, and he was in the middle of a nightmare performance of bad bounces and pucks winding up behind him when they shouldn’t have.

“If you asked Tomas, he would be the first one to tell you it was probably not the way he wrote the script,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Vokoun was the first to say it, conceding this certainly wasn’t his best night.

“I can’t tell you the last time I remember having as bad a game as I did tonight,” he said following the Caps’ 6-5 shootout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Indeed, the Caps are 2-0 on the season – and much of it can be credited to Vokoun bouncing back from a dreadful three periods to keep his team in it in overtime and then in the shootout.

Redemption, thy name is Tomas – even if he doesn’t want to take credit.

“It just shows how strong this team is. They literally won today without goaltending,” said Vokoun, who finished with 23 saves on 28 shots. “We won the game – certainly not thanks to me.”

Regulation was not Vokoun’s brightest moment. The Lightning scored once by banking the puck off Mike Green’s skate, and twice from below the goal line difficult angles that shouldn’t lead to the red light coming on.

“Once you get a little bit on the heels, you’re misreading the plays and it was just ugly, ugly, ugly game for me,” Vokoun said. “Every time I thought something’s going to happen, the exact opposite [happened]. Sometimes you go through games like that.”

This was Vokoun’s 633rd career NHL game and despite it being his Washington debut, it was a night to forget. He admitted giving up “two or three soft goals” and was getting razzed by the crowd he was looking forward to playing in front of.

Then came overtime, when Vokoun was brilliant. He stopped Vinny Lecavalier on the doorstep and made a few more key saves to give his teammates an opportunity to steal the second point. Then he made two more in the shootout as Matt Hendricks and Alexander Semin sealed the shootout win.

“It takes a guy with a lot of mental toughness to play like that and then in the overtime when you’re having four-on-three against you and make those three or four huge saves,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’ve got to believe if it was me I would’ve been so mentally out of it. You touch the puck and the crowd’s booing you and it’s your first game in there and you want to make an impression and your agent spouted off in the paper about it being a slap in the face and everything.

“And he comes up and he makes those big saves and he makes the save[s] in the shootout. It told me a lot about his character.”

But Vokoun said overtime was the easiest part for him. Throughout the game he was thinking too much – worrying too much about what would go wrong. In the extra session he was just reading and reacting.

“That’s my job,” he said. “Believe it or not, I was trying to do that the whole game – pull it together.”

Vokoun pulled it together, as his teammates – like Jason Chimera (two goals) and Marcus Johansson (one goal, one assist, two drawn penalties) – sewed together the Caps’ second straight victory to start the season.

For a goaltender who got very used to losing 1-0 and 2-1 games in Nashville and Florida, this was a welcome chance to get bailed out in a rough performance. But this redemption tale comes with the hope for even more.

“Guys battled, came back four times,” Vokoun said. “I’m going to make a promise I’m going to get them back sometime when they need me.”

Vokoun’s teammates might want to store that up for a sloppy game on a cold winter night. But for now, they’re happy the 35-year-old netminder finished the job against Tampa Bay.

“I’m sure he’d like to have a few back. But at the same time, he’s a veteran player,” Hendricks said. “You can tell how mentally tough he is, especially at the end there with the four-on-threes in overtime. He made some outstanding saves on some outstanding players. And he held us in the shootout.

He makes two big saves for us and we get the two points, he gets his first ‘W’ in a Caps uniform, and now we can look forward to the rest of the season.”

Maybe not how Vokoun drew it up, but a fitting script nonetheless.

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