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Penguins' Game 7 hopes rest with "Other 1"

NHL.com @NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Marc-Andre Fleury is the Pittsburgh Penguins' other 1.

The Penguins' four-year transformation from the team with the NHL's worst record to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in Detroit on Friday is often pegged as starting with No. 1 pick Sidney Crosby in 2005.

It truly began with Fleury being selected No. 1 in 2003.

Just like Crosby, Fleury was an 18-year-old Canadian with enormous potential who didn't play a day in the minors before starting his first NHL game. His first season was a rough one yet, like Crosby, the Penguins wouldn't be a victory from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992 without him.

Even if it must seem to Fleury like Crosby and Malkin earn the praise for the wins and he gets blamed for the losses, as he did after allowing 11 goals during three losses in Detroit in the series.

Too unpredictable. Too susceptible to giving up soft goals. Too flighty. Too unreliable to take a team to a championship.

Fleury's heard all the reasons why the Penguins can't win because of him, so he knows there's only one way to answer the criticism and doubters.

To play like No. 1.

"I think everybody feels good about it," Fleury said Thursday of the first Stanley Cup finals Game 7 in Penguins history. "I'm really excited. It doesn't matter what we've done there before, or the games we lost there, it's a matter of going and playing our game. Just play that one game. That's it."

Just one.

As bad as Fleury was during Detroit's steamroller of a 5-0 victory in Game 5 on Saturday, when he was yanked during a four-goal second period and spent the rest of the game watching from a tunnel, he was equally as good when the Penguins came back to win 2-1 in Game 6 on Tuesday.

Several Fleury saves were brilliant, including a game-saving stop on a Dan Cleary breakaway in the final two minutes.

That save was similar to one he made on an Alex Ovechkin breakaway in the Penguins' 6-2 victory at Washington in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. That might have been the save of the playoffs, and it gave his teammates confidence he can come through Friday.

Including that other No. 1.

"He was so solid for us (in Game 6), and you look back at the other Game 7 against Washington, he's a big-game player," Crosby said. "Your goalie's got to be that way. We're very confident in him."

Fleury vs. Detroit's Chris Osgood might seem like the biggest mismatch of Game 7, but Fleury (35 wins, 2.67 goals-against average, 4 shutouts) had a better regular season than Osgood (26 wins, 3.09 goals-against average, 2 shutouts).

Fleury may not have played a Game 7 in the finals, but Osgood hasn't either. Detroit may have far more playoff experience than the Penguins, but this is the Red Wings' first finals Game 7 since 1964. None of the Wings were playing then, not even 47-year-old Chris Chelios.

"Just focus on my game, and not think too much about the outside stuff," Fleury said of his Game 7 approach. "Just try to keep it simple, one save at a time, one shot at a time, that's what I've got to think about."

Fleury experienced problems with Joe Louis' springy boards and tricky bounces as Detroit won 3-1 in each of the first two games, but Friday will be Fleury's fourth game there in 14 days, and he's learning to adjust.

"No, I won't change a thing," Fleury said. "I haven't changed all year. It's not time in Game 7 here to make any changes. Just go with the same and give all I've got."

Despite the 11 Stanley Cup banners hanging from the ceiling, the octopi that fly from the stands and the aura of winning that inhabits Joe Louis Arena, the Penguins plan to approach it like any other game.

Even if, as defenseman Brooks Orpik said, "It's kind of all for nothing if you don't win. It's kind of a wasted opportunity."

"It's one game, and the winning team brings it (the Cup) home," forward Max Talbot said. "Both teams have pressure. It should be interesting. We beat them there during the regular season. I don't think we have a problem playing there."

For all of Fleury's flops in Detroit - he tripped coming onto the ice before Game 1 of last year's finals - and his career 3.64 goals-against average and .887 save percentage in Joe Louis, Fleury insists he has no trepidation about playing the biggest game of his career there.

"It just seems like we keep moving to another game, another series, but this is it," Fleury said. "That's why we've got to empty the tank, give all we got, and try to get that thing. ... We've got to be ready and focused and just give it to them."

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