BOSTON – Marc-Andre Fleury is used to playing pretty much every time his team takes the ice, but Pittsburgh's goaltender had made just one start in 11 days prior to his club's battle with the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
The All-Star break and a rare night off in favor of backup goaltender Brent Johnson on Wednesday night in Toronto combined to give Fleury a little extra rest, but there was no rust evident in the Penguins victory over the Bruins.
Fleury, who has now played in 24 of Pittsburgh's last 25 games, made 28 saves to earn his ninth straight win in a 2-1 victory against the offense-starved Bruins at TD Garden.
"It was nice. Johnny did a great job (Wednesday) night. I'm just happy to be back in the net and to get a win," Fleury said.
Combined with their loss to Carolina on Thursday night, the Bruins have lost consecutive games at home for the first time since October. They found the back of the net just once in the two games -- they were shut out in a 47-save performance by Cam Ward of the Hurricanes.
While the shot total against Carolina was higher, the degree of difficulty on the saves was larger for Fleury thanks to Boston's improved determination.
"I think the fact that we were better tonight than we were the other night is an improvement," said Bruins coach Claude Julien, whose team is 4-5-1 in its last 10 and has lost three of its last four. "I thought we played a lot harder than we had. And it's like anything else. When you're struggling, you don't just come in the next night and all of a sudden everything's fixed. Same thing when you're winning yet your play is starting to slip. You're still winning hockey games before it catches up.
"So the same thing's going to happen in reverse. We're going to play some decent games, and at the end of the night you look at what's happened, we're still on the losing end of it. But you've got to start building on the positive and tonight I thought our effort was better, our focus was better and there were a couple of areas again that we need to continue to improve on."
Fleury was protecting a 2-0 lead when he let up his first goal of the night 6:45 into the third period. Joe Corvo's wrister eluded Fleury through a Brad Marchand screen to end a scoring drought of 119:36 dating back to Boston's win against Ottawa last Tuesday.
From there, Fleury was perfect the rest of the way.
"Marc was exceptional tonight," Bylsma said. "There were a couple real big saves, but he was at his best with traffic, and his rebound control minimized any kind of action at the net Boston had with their PP. They get one because he can't see it and doesn't know where it is. Pretty much everything he was able to see he was in control of and minimized second opportunities they could have had."
Boston's leading scorer, Tyler Seguin, split the Pittsburgh defense, kicking the puck to his forehand and fired a low hard wrist shot with just about two minutes to play in regulation, but Fleury got the toe of his skate out in time to preserve the one-goal lead.
"It was big because it was late in the game and they had the momentum and they kept coming at us," Fleury said.
As they often have of late, the Penguins got on the scoreboard thanks to a goal from Evgeni Malkin, this one with just nine seconds remaining in the first period. Malkin had drawn a slashing penalty against Rich Peverley, and then during the ensuing power play he pounced on a loose puck and flipped it into the net.
Early in the third period, the Penguins added more offensive support for Fleury. After Dustin Jeffrey took a spinning shot on Tim Thomas (26 saves), the Pittsburgh center intercepted Thomas' attempt to deflect the rebound to the corner. Matt Cooke crashed the net to knock in the rebound of Jeffrey's second shot attempt for a 2-0 lead 1:53 into the third.
That was all the offense Fleury and the Penguins needed to earn their ninth win in their last 10 outings.
"In the third period, I thought our team was able to play real well without the puck," Bylsma said. "But [we were] still able to keep them away from our zone enough to get in the offensive zone, keep pressure there, keep pressure on their team and they got a goal there to get to one and every guy, every player had to play good defense, play good team defense, and we got a lot of big efforts and a huge win for us."