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Fleury's playoff experience shining through

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH -- Final game of a long road trip, first game of a playoff series -- it didn't matter. During defenseman Paul Martin's six seasons with New Jersey, the Devils were extremely confident of winning a game with Martin Brodeur in goal.

Any game.

After signing with Pittsburgh this season, Martin quickly discovered the Penguins go into games with the same feeling about Marc-Andre Fleury, a two-time Stanley Cup finalist who is two seasons removed from winning the championship.

"They have a lot of similarities, as far as personalities, the type of goalie they are," Martin said.

Fleury was the difference-maker as the Penguins beat Tampa Bay 3-0 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, making 32 saves -- several of which belonged in the category labeled, "Did you just see that?"

Fleury turned aside former teammate Ryan Malone by stacking his leg pads backward -- don't try this at home -- and he somehow stopped a shot Vincent Lecavalier created by shoving the puck between his skates and putting it on net.

The more stops he made, the more the Lightning seemed to become frustrated at their failure to beat Fleury during his fifth career postseason shutout.

An opponent's frustration, as Martin knows, often is Brodeur's best friend.

"You don't really realize sometimes how good someone is until you play with them, and that's kind of what it's been this year for me with Flower," Martin said Friday before Game 2. "He's been making the big saves. We've had two guys out and he's been huge for us. His ability to make those big saves -- and the routine saves -- is huge."

Those two guys out for Pittsburgh for half a season only happen to be Sidney Crosby, arguably the NHL's best player, and Evgeni Malkin, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2009. Those aren't just two average guys that coach Dan Bylsma must replace.

Still, the Penguins seem very confident they can win any playoff series with Fleury in net. Maybe that's because playing so many playoff games -- 63 since 2007 -- has helped settle Fleury down during big games.

Fleury, despite maintaining his usual easy-going, nothing-gets-to-me demeanor, also seems intent on rebounding from a disappointing loss to Montreal in the East semifinals last season in which he was pulled during a 5-2 loss in Game 7.

"If you play goalie, you have to forget about it," said Fleury, who was chosen as the Penguins' MVP this season. "If you make a good save, it makes you feel better, gives you more confidence. It's fun to make a save, but you've got to move on and try to make the next save."

And win the next game.

Fleury was looking Friday for his 40th career playoff win; since making his playoff debut during a five-game series loss to Ottawa in 2007, Fleury has 10 more playoff wins than any other NHL goalie. Detroit's Chris Osgood (29 wins) is second. Only one other goalie, Evgeni Nabokov, is within 21 wins of Fleury.

"The experience also helps -- don't panic," Fleury said. "Just try to make the next stop, make the next save and try to help us a chance to win it."

Or what Fleury does best.

"He's already won a Cup," Malone said. "I mean he's played good hockey before, so this is nothing new for him."

Malone thinks he knows what Tampa Bay must do the rest of the series to try to rattle Fleury, as Montreal did last spring.

"If I'm (in front), hopefully one of their defensemen is there with me so hopefully he can't see the puck and it banks off one of our shin pads, pants, face," Malone said. "Whatever it takes to get it in there."

Fleury believes the key to playoff goaltending is adjusting -- if Tampa Bay makes a tactical switch, even during the middle of a game, he must be ready for it.

"You have to be prepared for whatever comes," he said. "And what doesn't come."
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