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But seriously, unflappable Fleury comes up big

by Shawn P. Roarke

"I think that's why the playoffs are so fun. It's best for wins. And whatever happens in those first games, you know, you're going to forget about it, and always start over again every night. You know, last night was a little bit better for me, and, you know, we've got the win, so, that's great."
-- Marc-Andre Fleury

PITTSBURGH -- Part of Marc-Andre Fleury's charm is that he never takes himself too seriously.

Fleury's bounce-back performance in Game 3, in which he stopped the final 17 shots of the game, gave the Pittsburgh Penguins the opportunity to fashion a 4-2 win Tuesday night and get right back in this Stanley Cup Final series against Detroit. Afterward, everyone wanted to talk about the young goalie's mental fortitude in putting aside two sub-par games in Detroit to open the series.

But Fleury was having none of it on Wednesday's off-day. He saw nothing heroic about what he did. He is paid to stop the puck and, in Game 3, he stopped enough pucks to let his team survive a shaky second period -- Pittsburgh was outshot 14-4 -- and win it in the third on Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal. Max Talbot added an empty-net goal late in the game.

"A lot of times I was just trying to make saves and trying to keep the score tight," Fleury said. "Keep the team in the game. It felt good to have some shots and being able to make some saves and keep the team at 2-2."

Fleury couldn't keep the first two games close enough. In each, Pittsburgh entered the third period facing a 2-1 deficit -- and in each, Detroit's Justin Abdelkader scored a goal early in the period to take some of the starch out of the Penguins.

Not surprisingly, Fleury was under considerable scrutiny, especially because his counterpart, Detroit's Chris Osgood, was making all the big saves. Yet Fleury never wavered from his "what me worry?" personality.

"I think that's why the playoffs are so fun," Fleury said. "It's best for wins. And whatever happens in those first games, you know, you're going to forget about it, and always start over again every night. You know, last night was a little bit better for me, and, you know, we've got the win, so, that's great."

Fleury, like most of his teammates, emerged from the disappointment of last year's loss in the Stanley Cup Final to these same Wings as a changed person. He learned that people always will be eager to rip apart his performance; that it is to be his lot in life if he wants to occupy hockey's biggest -- and brightest -- stage.

Talbot watched Fleury struggle last season with some of the scrutiny that came the goalie's way. He was sad to watch it start to happen again in the first two games of this Final, but he was ecstatic when Fleury emerged as one of the heroes of Game 3.

"(Detroit) put us on our heels," Talbot said. "Luckily, 'Flower' was there. I know in the first and second game maybe he got criticized a little bit. But I’m really happy for him, because tonight he was definitely first in my book."

Since joining the team as an in-season replacement, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma has watched Fleury handle the ups and downs of Pittsburgh's wildly erratic regular season, a season that saw the defending Eastern Conference champions make a charge from 10th place to fourth.

Bylsma knows that run would not have happened without the inspired play of Fleury. For him, that is the trial by fire he needed to believe unconditionally in No. 29. Fleury's performances in the first three rounds of the playoffs have only bolstered Bylsma's faith.

"Our room has not wavered on our goaltender," Bylsma said Wednesday. "He's answered questions that have been asked about him from the media for a long time. We're here because of the way our team has played. And your goaltender is always a big part of that.
"In that second period we needed saves, and he gave a couple of big ones with traffic. That's what he's done. Our room is confident that's what he's going to continue to do for us going forward."

Traffic around the crease has been a subject throughout the first three games of the series. At times, Fleury has been under siege from Detroit's crease-crashing forwards -- particularly Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen -- and has struggled to handle the pressure. But as Bylsma said, Fleury was better at it in Tuesday night's Game 3.

"I saw all the red jerseys in front of me again," Fleury said. "It's always interesting when they're there. There're always little battles on trying to find the puck. So it's always a little bit sometimes tough to fight it, but I don't mind it. I don't mind the action in front of the crease. I'm just trying to battle to make those saves."
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