"He's amazing, he's truly amazing. He battled and he battled. Hat's off to him. He battled through a lot of criticism and a tough start and he battled back and he was awesome."
-- Bill Guerin on Marc-Andre Fleury
Before the puck was even dropped for last year's Stanley Cup Final, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was off to an inauspicious start. He tripped over the boards and stumbled to the ice, drawing the laughter of the fans in Joe Louis Arena as he took the ice during introductions before the start of Game 1.
One year later, it was Fleury who undercut the Red Wings' Stanley Cup hopes. He refused to wilt in Game 7 on Friday night, stopping 23 shots in the Penguins' Cup-clinching 2-1 victory.
"It just felt good. It's awesome," Fleury said. "I knew we could do it."
It was vindication of another sort for Fleury, who had been 0-3 at The Joe in the Final, allowing 11 goals.
"He's amazing, he's truly amazing," teammate Bill Guerin said. "He battled and he battled. Hat's off to him. He battled through a lot of criticism and a tough start and he battled back and he was awesome."
The save that will be forever etched in the minds of Penguins' fans is the one he made on Nicklas Lidstrom in the final seconds. The puck trickled loose to the Red Wings' captain, but Fleury dove across and took the shot off his chest.
"I saw the rebound go to my right and Lidstrom coming in so I just dove for it and tried to get my body there," Fleury said. "I got it in the ribs. It was great."
Not to Lidstrom.
"The puck kind of squirted out to me," Lidstrom said. "It was either their forward or 'D' came diving in front of me, and the goalie, same thing. I just hit him right in the chest."
And just like that, the celebration was on.
But before the game even started, Fleury wasn't giving off the impression of a goalie getting focused to play the biggest game of his life. Defenseman Brooks Orpik was a little worried that Fleury was too relaxed leading up to the game.
"I was a little nervous before the game because he was really acting like a clown. I was talking with a couple other guys and saying I really hope he is ready to play here," Orpik said. "He made a couple of huge saves early. He was awesome all night, right from the beginning to the end. That one at the end was the best save I have ever seen."
Fleury kept the Penguins in the game during a back-and-forth first period. With the game still scoreless, the Red Wings had a faceoff deep in the Penguins' zone. Off the draw, the puck found its way onto the stick of Kirk Maltby all alone in front of the net. But the 24-year-old Fleury robbed the veteran Maltby with a lightning-quick glove save to keep the Wings off the scoreboard.
When the Red Wings held a 2-0 series lead, the popular theory was the Penguins had no chance of beating the defending champions four of out of five games. But Fleury stepped up when his team needed him the most, holding the Wings' potent offense to just six goals in the Penguins' four victories.
"He's amazing," defenseman Hal Gill said. "I have to buy him a bottle of champagne or something. I owe him a few drinks. He stands on his head when he needs to."
One year after having a hard time standing on his own two skates, Fleury found himself standing on his head and skating around Joe Louis Arena with the Stanley Cup raised in victory.
"It's a dream since you're a little boy," Fleury said. "To do that tonight was huge."
Contact Dave Lozo at firstname.lastname@example.org.