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June 1, 2013

Goaltenders Vokoun, Rask hold key to East finals

PITTSBURGH — The NHL’s most unlikely postseason success story is nearly bald, his hairline an unwitting casualty to three decades spent hidden under a goaltender’s mask.

All those long winters — including 16 in the best league in the world — never led to long springs, however, for Tomas Vokoun.

Until now.

Halfway through the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs the two-time All-Star turned journeyman backup holds the key to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff hopes. He is, for the first time in his life, the “hot goalie” during the most important time of year.

Heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins Saturday night, Vokoun’s numbers appear to be a misprint. Seven starts. Six wins. One very stoic and largely anonymous presence at the back of Pittsburgh’s star-laden attack.

Given a week to ponder his remarkable run after taking over for struggling Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 of the first-round series against the New York Islanders, Vokoun insists he’s trying not to think about what it all means, with varying levels of success.

“You just know that you’re playing well, you’re trying to do the right things,” Vokoun said. “You try not to treat it any differently, even if you know the stakes are just getting bigger.”

It’s a phenomenon unique to goaltenders this time of year. For all the talk about the importance of playoff experience, the guys in the back of the net can sometimes seem immune to the pressure.

Vokoun never played on a team that made it past the opening round of the postseason until Pittsburgh ousted the Islanders in six games three weeks ago. He was hardly overcome by the stage in the second round against Ottawa, allowing all of 11 goals in five games, including a pair of meaningless scores after the Penguins already had things well in hand during Game 4 and 5 routs.

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