Money in the Bank
Great play by Tomas Vokoun may get Nashville into the playoffs and save the owner from writing refund checks
The Predators have been full of surprises this season. Owner Craig Leipold's promise to refund this year's 6% season-ticket price hike if his five-year-old franchise failed to make the playoffs made headlines. After Nashville won only six of its first 29 games and then traded No. 1 goalie Mike Dunham to the Rangers on Dec. 12, it looked as if Leipold would spend the spring cutting rebate checks. Later that day career backup Tomas Vokoun, a ninth-round pick in 1994 who was claimed by the Predators in the expansion draft, was anointed the starter. "It was so sudden, we didn't have time to talk about it," says Vokoun, who stopped 22 shots in the 2-2 tie with St Louis that night. "I wasn't expecting it."
Vokoun's promotion may ultimately save Leipold a lot of money. At week's end Nashville was 10-2-2-1 since the Ail-Star break and trailed the Oilers by five points for the final Western Conference playoff spot. Order forms for postseason tickets were mailed last Friday—for the first time in franchise history. "Vokoun is the biggest reason we've been playing so well lately," says defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
As Dunham's backup Vokoun had never played in more than 37 games in a season, but coach Barry Trotz was impressed by the Czech goalie's steady improvement. With one of the league's weakest offenses, the 26-year-old Vokoun has given the Predators a chance to win in most matches. Through Sunday he had started 38 of Nashville's 39 games since the trade with a 2.07 goals-against average.
Vokoun was brilliant during a recent four-game winning streak that lifted the Predators, who were 27-25-10-5 at week's end, above the 500 mark. "Anytime we made a mistake early in the year, the puck ended up in our net," says wing Brent Gilchrist. "Those mistakes don't hurt us now."
Crackdown on Divers
The League's Shame List
Last month NHL vice president Colin Campbell announced that, effective March 1, there will be a crackdown on the league's most gifted thespians—players who embellish hits and dive to the ice to draw penalties. The league says it will post a list of the offenders inside every dressing room and fine those players $1,000, even if their tours de flop didn't draw a diving penalty. (At week's end no list had been released.) Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios immediately cast his vote. " Paul Kariya," he said. "Biggest diver in the league."
Who are the other likely candidates for the shame list? SI's nominees for worst offenders, in order of flopping ability, are: Darcy Tucker, Maple Leafs; Theo Fleury, Blackhawks; and Matthew Barnaby, Rangers.