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Fleury's heroics not enough to save Penguins

by Mike G. Morreale

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
GAA: 2.12 | SVP: .927
NEW YORK -- Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury did everything he could to help the Pittsburgh Penguins extend their season against the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

As he did throughout the series, Fleury again proved to be quite the obstacle for the Presidents' Trophy-winning Rangers, who averaged 3.02 goals per game during the regular season, third in the NHL.

Fleury was rock-solid in each game. But that wasn't enough to overcome his team's offensive shortcomings in the five-game series loss to the Rangers, capped by a 2-1 overtime defeat on Friday. Fleury allowed two goals in four of the five games, including the last two, each of which the Penguins lost in overtime.

"[Fleury] really hung in there for us and gave us a chance every game especially [Friday]," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "Whenever we had a breakdown he was there for us. He was exceptional and he's kind of been like that for us all year. He deserves a lot of credit for the way he played."

Fleury made 139 saves on 150 shots in five games against the Rangers, including 34 saves in Game 5. But he wasn't interested in his own numbers.

"All that matters is winning and I'm part of the team, just trying to do my job the best I can," Fleury said. "It just [stinks] to lose."

Fleury had just one win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, but finished with his second-lowest goals-against average (2.12) and second-highest save percentage (.927) during that span. But that wasn't good enough for a team that managed eight goals in five games.

"I knew halfway through the game that there wasn't going to be much [scoring chances]," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "[Fleury] played really well. He kept them in this one. As a goalie, it's important to try and take care of your own business and not get too involved in what's going on in front of you because one mistake and it's over."

The game was played at a fever pitch and the goalies had to be spectacular.

"I thought both goaltenders were really good," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "To be honest, I thought early in the game, they had the momentum early in the first period certainly with a surge of the crowd and then they got that goal. [Fleury] was really good after that and I thought Lundqvist was really good at the other end."

If nothing else, Fleury's effort against the Rangers may have put a muzzle on his critics for the time being. After helping lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009 with a 2.61 GAA and .908 save percentage, Fleury had struggled to find his playoff niche, going four straight seasons with a sub-.900 save percentage in the postseason.

"He doesn't have to prove anything to us," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Fleury. "He's been doing that night after night for us in the regular season and playoffs. I've said before that goalies don't have the opportunity after a couple tough games in the playoffs because usually they don't get any more after that, but he bounced back after those tough playoff seasons and I think he's proven for a long time that that's way in the past. He's done a great job for us for a long time. He was great [Friday]; we could have easily gotten that one."

The Penguins played four of their final seven regular-season games with five defensemen after injuries to Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Derrick Pouliot (upper body) and Kris Letang (concussion). Defensemen Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin were called into action for Game 1 and played well in the series, but the veteran losses on the back end were tough to overcome.

"We've had a lot with our share of injuries for our team and we were missing a lot of defensemen for the playoffs," Fleury said. "But everyone that was in battled hard and tried to do their best. I tried to give us a chance to hang in there, it is what it is."

The loss of Letang, their best offensive defenseman, really hurt.

"Certainly Kris Letang is a big part of our team and a huge part of what we do," Johnston said. "I give our defense all the credit in the world with the amount of minutes they played down the stretch. I thought Chorney and Dumoulin stepped in well and played well in a tough series against the tough team."

Fleury and his defense weren't helped by a power play that finished 2-for-13 in the series. The top power-play unit, consisting of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist and Paul Martin, didn't score; the second unit generated both goals.

"Our power play could have done a little more," Crosby said. "Power plays in the playoffs in general aren't clicking like they usually do in the regular season. Being the way the game was [on Friday], our power play could have given us that extra goal here or there a couple of times."

Said Malkin, who was held without a point in the series, "I want to say sorry to fans, to my teammates. I know I'm a leader on this team. Not so good game. I don't know."

Fleury believes the Penguins still have the core pieces in place to return to being a contender next season.

"I don't see why [we shouldn't bounce back]," Fleury said. "We have a good group of guys here. We played against the first team in the League and played them well."


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