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Fleury again quiets critics with decisive play

by Dan Rosen
With each save Thursday night, all 37 of them, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury told every one of his critics to sit down and shut up.


If he does it again Saturday in Detroit, the Penguins could have a chance to win their first Stanley Cup since 1992 back in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

"I play for my team and my teammates, and no matter what people say or write about me, it doesn't matter," Fleury said after his first-star performance Thursday night in Pittsburgh's series-tying 4-2 win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. "Every night I'll try my best and I'll try to stop pucks. There will be some tough nights, but the most important thing is to forget about it as quick as possible and start over again the next one."

Fleury was taking a lot of heat after Game 2 against Detroit -- just like he took a lot of heat after Game 2 against Washington two rounds ago. Heck, some fans in Pittsburgh wanted to run him out of town when the Penguins returned home down 2-0 against the Caps.

Just as he did against Washington, Fleury answered with back-to-back terrific performances at Mellon Arena against Detroit to help his team even the Stanley Cup Final at two wins apiece. He made 27 saves to post a 4-2 victory in Game 3, then was even better in Game 4, stopping 37 shots.

But Fleury is only 1-4 in Stanley Cup Final games at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and he needed triple overtime to win that one (Game 5 of last year's series). He allowed six goals on 56 shots in that building in consecutive 3-1 losses in Games 1 and 2 this year.

That lack of success at the Joe doesn't seem to matter now that Fleury has once again rebounded in the face of criticism.

"You need your goaltender to be your best and Marc has provided that for us," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "He has been steady. He has that feel. He knows when the important time is to make a save. He's been huge for us."

Just like in Game 3, when the Red Wings fired 14 shots in the second period, Fleury had to face nearly 20 consecutive minutes of constant action. Thursday it was the first period and Fleury wound up turning aside 18 of Detroit's 19 shots, including 14 straight after Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins an early 1-0 lead.

The only shot that got through in the first period was a short-sided snapper by Darren Helm, who picked off an errant pass by Rob Scuderi. Just 46 seconds into the second period, Brad Stuart's point shot went through Bill Guerin and Sergei Gonchar, who were unsuspecting screens in front of Fleury, and past the goalie to give the Wings a 2-1 lead.

Fleury could have let that goal get into his head. Perhaps last year he would have -- but not this time. The Wings received up a pair of power plays shortly after, and Fleury stopped the three shots he faced. He saw none on the second advantage.

Jordan Staal gave Pittsburgh life with a shorthanded goal at 8:35. As soon as he did, the Penguins started pushing, scoring twice more to take the lead -- and Fleury never let the Wings back in the game.

Fleury was quick, up and down and side to side. He played a lot of the time on top of the crease, which cuts down the angles. At one point, he even initiated contact with Tomas Holmstrom, who is usually the one who does the initiating.

His confidence has never been higher, and the Penguins need it to stay that way in order to win the Stanley Cup.

"There are lots of questions and from a distance I always saw the questions from the media, but (Fleury's) record at the times he has stood up for this team is pretty significant," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Our room is confident in him. In the first three rounds, he made the saves all the key times for us against key players. He was that again (Thursday night) and he was that in Game 3. That's part of the strength of our team. He's one of the main guys on our squad."

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