The Florida Panthers might be in rebuild mode, but Tomas Vokoun is focused on present

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for vokounstays.jpgTomas Vokoun might not be a “hockey household name” but he warms many a hockey nerd’s heart even though he toils away in obscurity as a member of the Florida Panthers. He might not get many wins (a stat, like baseball’s runs, that bothers geeky bloggers and stat-crunchers quite a bit), but even Vokoun is aware that he consistently ranks highly in save percentage.

The issue is that the Panthers haven’t been able to provide much goal support – and let’s be honest – most of the optimism about the Panthers focuses on the light at the end of roster rebuilding tunnel. After all, most of the improvements made to the team came about with new GM Dale Tallon’s focus on adding young talent through the aggressive addition of high-end draft picks.

It’s not crazy to notice that Vokoun might not be a part of that future, especially considering the fact that his contract will expire after the 2010-11 season. For that reason, Vokoun is looking forward to October 2010 and not much further. The Hockey News captured his short-term focus in this story.

“You have to be positive,” said Vokoun. ”There are a lot of good players on this team-maybe not as high profile as some people think.

”But it’s hockey. If we play a good team game we can beat anybody. Colorado showed it last year. We’ve just got to be a little tougher in key moments, key games. When crunch time came, we weren’t able to score or do whatever. The key is for us to show it when it matters.”

If not, it could be another early vacation for the Panthers and for Vokoun, who has made a career playing for underdogs and has only been in the playoffs twice, both times when he was with Nashville.

”It’s been a little bit easier on me because I played for the (Czech) national team at the Olympics and world championships,” he said. ”That, in a little, tiny way, substituted for playing in the playoffs.

”But it’s frustrating. I’m spending the best time of my career and obviously you want a chance to get into the playoffs.”

As that Hockey News article points out, another reason Vokoun might take a short-term outlook is because the Panthers have a high-end goalie prospect in the pipeline named Jacob Markstrom. The 20-year-old goalie is considered by some to be the best goalie prospect outside the NHL, in no small part because of the fact that the 6’4″ goalie covers up a ton of net.

If Florida stumbles out of the gate as they often do or simply look like a rebuilding team in a tough year, don’t be surprised if the expensive-but-excellent Vokoun becomes the most coveted goalie during the trade deadline. The Southeast Division boasts a bunch of intriguing stories going into the season, but the Czech goalie’s fate might have one of the biggest impacts on how this next season shakes out.

Even if he’s not a Florida Panther for the full season.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.