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Fleury steps up on big stage

by Brian Hunter

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has helped to turn his postseason fortunes around with his impressive play during the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The playoffs hadn’t been kind to Marc-Andre Fleury prior to this season.
Getting his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago, Fleury posted a 3.76 goals-against average and .880 save percentage as the Pittsburgh Penguins were ousted in five games by Ottawa. Even going back to his AHL days with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, his record was an unimpressive 2-6 in 11 games spread out over three series.
All that has been forgotten over the past five weeks, as Fleury has quietly but steadily been a rock in the Pittsburgh net. While the Penguins’ offensive output has been second only to Detroit’s this postseason, their goals-against of 1.9 per game has been the League’s best – and that’s in large part due to the play of their goaltender.
“Without your goaltender playing well, you’re not going to win many games in the playoffs,” captain Sidney Crosby said after Fleury’s 30 saves Sunday night helped Pittsburgh to a 4-2 win and a 2-0 lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“He’s been consistent and solid for us throughout. I think when you have a goaltender playing that well, the whole team feels that confidence and that sense of calmness. He’s been a huge lift for us.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing this season for Fleury, who suffered a high-ankle sprain Dec. 6 against Calgary and missed the next 35 games. In his absence, Ty Conklin helped vault Pittsburgh into the running for the East lead. But Fleury worked his way back into the starting role after returning in late February and looked sharp, finishing the season fifth in the League with a .921 save percentage.
“Since we started the playoffs he’s one of the biggest reasons why we’ve got success. He was sharp again,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

Chasing a dream – Don’t expect second-year forward Jordan Staal to be up on his trivia about the 1992 Penguins, their last team to bring home a Stanley Cup. That’s because while Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and company were helping the Steel City repeat as champions of the hockey world, Staal was a mere three years old.
These days, he’s part of a talented, youthful squad that has compiled 10 of the 16 wins it takes to bring home Lord Stanley’s hardware – and don’t think for a moment Staal isn’t relishing every single moment of the experience.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Staal, who scored his third of the playoffs into an empty net with 29 seconds left, sealing Sunday night’s victory. “I still feel like I’m a little naive right now. But no question, I’m excited about it. I want to win.”
Staal wasn’t so naïve as to think the Penguins would have an easy time putting the Flyers in an 0-2 hole. After Pittsburgh got the early jump in the series by taking Game 1, he was well aware Philadelphia would step up its game in the hopes of drawing even.
“They split their first two games in their first two playoff series,” Staal said. “We didn’t want to give them any life. So we’re happy to get this win and hopefully we’ll win two in their building.”

Keeping it simple – In his first game back in the lineup after missing five with a broken right foot, Maxime Talbot wasn’t looking to do anything special. Placed on the fourth line along with veterans Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts, he was just happy to be part of the Penguins’ postseason run once again.
By the end of the night, Talbot was the center of attention after scoring the game-winning goal midway through the third period.
“I just wanted to do my job,” Talbot said. “It’s pretty simple – chip (the puck) in and try to get some hits, play well on defense and penalty-killing, but it’s always a bonus when the third or fourth line gets a big goal like that. Definitely feels great.”
Talbot started and finished the play that resulted in his second goal of the playoffs and first since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Ottawa. When Flyers winger Steve Downie couldn’t clear his own zone, Talbot picked off the puck and the Penguins worked it down low. Roberts found Talbot from behind the net, and he wristed a shot that beat Martin Biron.
“We had a good shift going – me, Georges and Roberts,” Talbot said. “That’s our role, we try to get momentum. We stopped a play at the blue line and then Georges put the puck behind the net and Roberts called for the puck and Roberts saw me. It was a great pass and I put it in.”
Talbot scored 13 goals during his first full season in 2006-07 and followed up with 12 more this year. He’s never going to be confused for more offensive-minded teammates such as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Marian Hossa, but Therrien noted he picks his moments well.
“He seems to score all these big-time goals even if he doesn’t score many goals,” Therrien said. “You look at his goal tonight, the game-winner, Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque … it’s nice to have contributions from different players and it’s good for those guys to be able to contribute to the success of the team. I was really pleased for their hard work. They got rewarded for their hard work, and it’s nice to see that.”

Picking up the slack – While the end result was far from pleasing to John Stevens, the Philadelphia coach commended the work of his five healthy defenseman at night’s end. Already without All-Star blueliner Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers lost Braydon Coburn in the opening minutes after a puck deflected up into his face, and were forced to rotate five defensemen the rest of the way.
“Well, obviously it’s tough. Coby is an all-situation player for us,” Stevens said. “He plays big minutes, but I thought the group of five did a heck of a job tonight.”
Pittsburgh’s first two goals came on power plays and Talbot’s game-winner could hardly be blamed on the defense. Still, it’s clear the Flyers need Coburn to play again soon if they want to extend the Penguins to six or seven games and ultimately prevail in the series.
“My left eye is swollen shut right now. I will keep the ice on it and get the swelling down and see what happens (Monday),” said Coburn in quotes distributed by the Flyers, adding he may be available for Game 3.
Stevens wasn’t predicting anything.
“We’ll have to re-evaluate him when we get home,” he said.

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report

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