Contrary to popular belief, Pittsburgh Penguins
goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
can't stand on his head.
"No, it hurts my neck too much," Fleury said during the Eastern Conference Final, "so I don't do that."
As he finished the answer, Fleury flashed the 1,000-watt smile that has become as much a part of his goaltending arsenal as his lightning-quick glove hand or his textbook butterfly style.
It is that smile, as much as anything, that has the Pittsburgh Penguins
liking their chances in the Stanley Cup Final, a year after their six-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings
in last year's Final.
Fleury, like many of the Penguins, has admitted to being overwhelmed by the spectacle of last year's Final -- especially during the first two games in Detroit, which ended in back-to-back shutout losses.
In fact, Fleury tripped coming onto the Joe Louis Arena ice last year before Game 1, a faux pas that came to symbolize Pittsburgh's struggles in the first two games.
Today, though, that misstep has become a subject of almost endless ribbing from his teammates and team personnel.
"I heard a lot about it," said Fleury, who added he will not repeat the performance this year, noting he is aware the doors at the player benches are not as wide as they are in most other buildings. "I got made fun of for that.”
At Friday's media day, GM Ray Shero
brought it up again when asked what needs to be different this time around for the Penguins to get the best of the Red Wings.
"Marc-Andre needs to make a good appearance as he jumps onto the ice and not step on the carpet," Shero said, laughing. "That would be really good."
Making fun of your starting goalie the day before such an important series? That's not supposed to happen, is it? Aren't these Penguins concerned about the mental state of their goalie, a concern that has occupied the thoughts of team after team that reached this juncture of the season?
"With him, he's so happy-go-lucky, it never seems like anything bothers him," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton
told NHL.com. "You can play in front of some goalies and if you're in their way on a shot or something like that, they will give you death looks. It's just not fun to play in front of (them). He's at the other end of the spectrum; he's a great guy and a great guy to play in front of.
There are no death looks from Fleury, just smiles and maybe an "aw, shucks" shrug of the shoulders when things go off the rails.
"He's still the same kid that loves to play hockey and I think he enjoys the challenge," defenseman Hal Gill
told NHL.com. "I don't want to say that he isn't afraid to mess up -- because that is always in an athlete's mind -- but he embraces the chance to go out and have fun and enjoy it.
"He's a guy that when you see him playing, he's playing in the moment and he's enjoying it. If he let's in a bad goal, he says, 'Hey, I'm not perfect, but I'm having fun trying,' and he gets right back at it. Win or lose, he enjoys the challenge."
Fleury has been doing a lot more winning than losing in the past two years. Heading into this year's Stanley Cup Final, he has won six of eight playoff series. Just 24 years of age, this will be the ninth NHL playoff series of his career.
"It's pretty cool though, you know, just at a young age to have the chance to be battling to win the Cup, especially two years in a row," Fleury said.
Along the way, he has learned to manage expectations and not concern himself with statistics or bad outings.
Shero says Fleury has shown that attitude from Day 1 of this year's playoffs, clearly evolving from the goalie who might have been swallowed by the immensity of the moment last spring.
"Someone mentioned his numbers in this playoff weren't as good as last year, but to me it doesn't matter," Shero said. "He is making the timely save, winning the games. That's what it's all about in the playoffs."
Shero pointed to three saves in this year's postseason run to illustrate his argument. The first came against Philadelphia in the first round -- an oh-my-gosh denial against Jeff Carter
in Game 2. Then, in Game 7 against Washington, Fleury made a picture-perfect glove save against Ovechkin early in the game to set the tone for a Penguin rout. Last round, Carolina's Eric Staal
had an open net late in Game 1 with a chance to tie the game. Instead, Fleury scrambled back to block the shot, allowing the Pens to win the game and begin a dominant four-game sweep.
"Those three saves define what Marc is about," Shero said. "He's about winning. You show me a young goaltender that's done what he's done at his age. Nine playoff series is incredible to me. He's being battle-tested and getting better. I think his best years are ahead of him."