PITTSBURGH – Three games, three losses and 20 goals allowed into what was becoming an unfathomably bad playoff series for the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach Dan Bylsma didn't waver for a moment.
He wasn't bailing out on Marc-Andre Fleury despite such raggedly poor play by his goalie that the Penguins were in danger of being swept by their biggest rival in a series they were favored to win.
"I know Marc-Andre is going to be the guy in net for the next four games," Bylsma said.
Two games later – or at least one more than many in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were forecasting he would play – Fleury is still standing. So are the Penguins after two consecutive victories in must-win games that tested their resiliency and Fleury's now-restored but previously badly shaken confidence.
PENGUINS VS. FLYERS
Hartnell: Flyers must feel the pain
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer If the Flyers are going to finally close out the Penguins in Game 6, Scott Hartnell said they're going to have to feel some pain. READ MORE ›
Fleury, who looked so rattled during the Flyers' 8-5 and 8-4 victories in Games 2 and 3 that Bylsma felt it necessary to give him an in-series pep talk, held up under nearly everything the Flyers threw at him during Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory Friday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
And they threw a lot, especially during a third period that will be replayed by Penguins fans for a long time if their team somehow overcomes tremendously high odds to rally and win the series.
"Our team was good," Bylsma said. "But Marc was at his best."
Especially as the Flyers relentlessly threw 14 shots at the goalie during a full-throttle third period that seemed to be played almost exclusively in the Penguins' end. Seven saves came during a series-saving penalty kill after Tyler Kennedy unwisely took a retaliatory slashing penalty at 7:37.
Overall, Fleury turned aside 24 of 26 shots.
"We couldn't get it past their goaltender," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "Their goaltender was good tonight."
Penguins forward Matt Cooke was even more complimentary about a goalie who won a career-high 42 games this season, helping Pittsburgh to the second-best regular-season record in franchise history.
"That's the best he's been this year for sure," Cooke said. "I mean, he's played great for us all year and he's been our guy through some of the quirky weird things that have happened to this point in the playoffs. We've never lost faith or lost doubt and he proved why."
Fleury probably hasn't been so good in a playoff game since he almost single-handedly held off the Detroit Red Wings during Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2009.
"He stood strong – made the big save -- but also stood strong," Bylsma said.
With Pittsburgh clinging to a 3-2 lead in a series that had been as wide open as the straightaway at Daytona, the power play began with Jordan Staal winning a faceoff in the defensive zone, but the Penguins couldn't clear the puck.
Kimmo Timonen took the first shot from far out at 7:46. Fleury's first big save came on Jakub Voracek's wicked one-timer from the right circle at 8:33, and Claude Giroux followed with a long wrist shot eight seconds later.
At that point, nearly a minute still needed to be killed off -- unless the Penguins were to find themselves tied in the third period of an elimination game against a team that had beaten them in seven of eight visits to Consol.
To that point, the Flyers had converted on 11 of 19 power-play attempts in the series, including man-advantage goals by Matt Carle and Scott Hartnell in the first period.
"He stood strong, made the big save but also stood strong whether there was traffic in front of the net, loose pucks and rebounds, he played really hard and really strong there in the crease," Bylsma said. "He kept it out in the third period."
Still, the Flyers kept pressuring and pressuring.
"There was a little bit of action there, but I still thought our guys did a good job -- blocked some shots and took guys backdoor and to the outside," Fleury said. "The crowd (of 18,628) was awesome, being loud and giving us the energy."
Jaromir Jagr, who 21 years ago was a rookie helping the Penguins to the first of successive Stanley Cup Final wins, threw a hard wrist shot at net, but still Pittsburgh couldn't clear the puck. Then, in perhaps the most dramatic sequence of the power play, Danny Briere missed from close range at 9:15 and on his own follow-up a second later.
"That PK was big for us," Fleury said. "We've been having a little trouble in the series, so it was a huge one for us."
Asked what that sequence was like, Staal said, "It was loud – and it was awesome. They made a push but Flower made some unbelievable saves. It was a great third period."
Even when the power play ended, the Flyers' siege didn't.
Fleury made perhaps his biggest save of the night by smothering Hartnell's shot in front at 10:13. About a minute later, Fleury shoved James van Riemsdyk out of the crease so he could turn and make a glove save on Erik Gustafsson's slap shot.
"They pushed on us for the last 10 minutes of the third, but he was great," Cooke said. "He kept the door closed."
As forgettable as Fleury's play was while he allowed 17 goals in the first three games of the series, this was a sequence to remember. So was the difficult save he made on Jagr early in the second period that prevented the Flyers from going up 3-1.
Bylsma's vote of confidence possibly gave Fleury the confidence he needed to turn around the series.
"He told me, we weren't happy losing the first three games but nothing was over and we started focusing on one game at a time, one period at a time," Fleury said. "Nothing was going right for us, but nothing was over."