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Marc-Andre Fleury steps up for Penguins in Game 1

Makes 31 saves in win against Blue Jackets after Matt Murray sustains injury in warmups

by Dan Rosen @DRosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Marc-Andre Fleury's night finished with a twirl on the ice, the spotlight shining on him with the rest of the building dark, the 18,563 at PPG Paints Arena chanting his last name.

It was all for Fleury's sensational 31-save, first-star-of-the-game performance in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 3-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Wednesday.

It was all so unpredictable.

"What can you say about his character and his compete level just to step in and be as good as he was," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

 

[RELATED: Murrary doesn't start Game 1 | Complete Blue Jackets vs. Penguins series coverage]

 

You need to rewind the tape about three hours to find out why Sullivan was praising Fleury's character and compete level after the game.

That was when Fleury was skating onto the ice for warmups somewhere on the line of Penguins players, where the backup goalie should be. The starter leads the team out, the backup falls in line somewhere. It's customary.

Video: The performance tonight of Mark-Andre Fleury

Meanwhile, behind the dressing room, out of sight from anyone but team personnel, Penguins third-string goalie Tristan Jarry was in his workout gear, getting ready to get in a little exercise before watching Game 1.

This was normal and expected. Then everything changed.

Matt Murray, who was supposed to start, left the ice with seven minutes still left in warmups, early for even the starting goalie.

Sidney Crosby went to talk to Fleury in the corner to the right of the Penguins goal. Seconds later, Fleury was down on the ice, stretching in a way that a backup goalie normally doesn't stretch in warmups. He bounced up and went into the crease to face some shots.

"I think warmup is always different when you don't play," Fleury said. "You're a little more on the side, just watching the guys go. When I saw [Murray] leave, I tried to get a few more shots to get into it."

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm1: Kessel, Fleury on opening round win

A buzz started to go through the press box. It spread to the crowd. They were undoubtedly talking about it on the various television broadcasts too.

What happened to Murray? Is Fleury going to start? Is Jarry going to back up? Is this really happening again, just like it did before Game 1 of the first round last season, when the Penguins had third-string goalie Jeff Zatkoff start against the New York Rangers and Jarry serve as his backup hours after Fleury looked like the presumed starter during the morning skate?

"[Mike Bales] the goalie coach told me when I was walking off that [Murray] wasn't coming back and I was going in," Fleury said.

At the same time, Jarry was getting his equipment on because the Penguins needed him to be the backup. Murray was unable to play because of a lower-body injury.

"You don't have much time to think about it," Jarry said. "I guess that helps. You just go right into it."

Fleury felt the same, albeit with far more pressure since he was the starter now.

"I just tried to approach it as a regular game," he said.

Fleury being Fleury, he came back into the dressing room after warmup with a smile on his face, center Evgeni Malkin said.

"We saw [Fleury] start smiling in the locker room, just relaxing, saying, 'Let's go guys, I'm going to stop every puck,'" Malkin said.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm1: Fleury stones Calvert, sprawls for save

Fleury made the whole situation seem normal, even if there was chaos around him with players trying to figure out what was going on, coaches scrambling, and Murray with the trainers.

"Nothing seems to affect him," Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta said of Fleury. "He's always that happy guy. I think it was more of a calming effect for us, at least that's how I took it, just how calm he was. He was ready to go. He was pretty unbelievable."

Fleury received a huge ovation from the crowd when his name was announced as the starter. He made five saves within the first 4:12 of the game. They weren't all too difficult.

Then he was tested. Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski got the puck in the right circle and had some room. Fleury came out to challenge him and made a big save at 7:23 of the first period.

"When you get a little more of a quality shot there and I can keep the score 0-0, then that's a good feeling and you can get confidence from it," Fleury said.

He flashed his glove to stop Cam Atkinson from the right circle at 11:56. The fans chanted "Fleury, Fleury, Fleury."

Fleury made 16 saves in the first period. The Penguins were under siege and on their heels, but their surprise starting goalie didn't let the Blue Jackets capitalize.

"[Fleury] is the reason we stayed in the game in the first period," Maatta said.

The Penguins gave Fleury a cushion with three goals in the second period, the first two coming in the first 3:45. They allowed four shots on goal in the second period and 12 in the third, including five after Matt Calvert scored at 12:19 to make it 3-1.

"It's unfortunate they scored late because it would have been great to get him a shutout," Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said.

That was about the only thing missing from an unpredictable night.

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