Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

NHL ; Zatkoff Unlikely Hero for Penguins

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

NHL ; Zatkoff Unlikely Hero for Penguins

Article excerpt

PITTSBURGH - It would have been easy for Jeff Zatkoff to go through the motions. Nobody would have blamed him really. Bumped out of the Pittsburgh Penguins backup goaltender spot by rookie Matt Murray over the winter, Zatkoff spent the last six weeks of the regular season a healthy scratch, arguably the two most dreaded words in hockey.

It's not in Zatkoff's easygoing nature to complain. So he buried himself in his work, spending copious amounts of time with goaltending coach Mike Bales and trying to stay positive while serving as one of the team's resident jokesters.

"I like to add that lightheartedness, Zatkoff said. "I wouldn't say it affected my game.

Not in the slightest. When injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury and Murray forced the Penguins to go with their little-used third option, Zatkoff responded with the finest moment of his brief career, turning aside 35 shots in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night that gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

The murmur that greeted his arrival on the ice in place of Fleury before the opening faceoff morphed into chants of his name in the final minutes. Surreal territory for a 28-year-old rendered an afterthought during the Penguins' blistering run to end the regular season.

"It definitely sent chills through me a little bit, Zatkoff said. "It's exciting. That's why you play the game. It's fun getting the job done at home in front of your fans. It's a special moment, one I'll remember for sure.

One that resonated with the man he stood in for. Fleury, still recovering from a concussion suffered on March 31, watched Zatkoff's performance from the rafters, marveling at his teammate's resiliency.

"That was awesome, very happy for him, Fleury said on Thursday. "He's such a great teammate. Has been all year. Been put in tough situations. I love the way he responded.

Good thing, because there's a chance Zatkoff may be called on again in Game 2 on Saturday. Fleury practiced for the third time this week on Thursday but remains vague about his availability for the weekend as he deals with his second concussion this season.

"Still a work in progress I think, Fleury said. …

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