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Round 1

Marc-Andre Fleury enjoying moment with Penguins

32-year-old Pittsburgh goaltender happy to have chance to start against Blue Jackets during playoffs

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Marc-Andre Fleury remembers a moment during his rookie season as a goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were playing the Colorado Avalanche at old Mellon Arena, and forward Joe Sakic broke away.

Sakic was a winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player, a winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a two-time Stanley Cup champion. Fleury had grown up watching him.

So when Sakic tried to beat him with a backhand shot and he gloved it, Fleury let out a "Woo!"

The rookie wasn't trying to show up the future Hall of Famer. It was just the natural reaction of a 19-year-old goaltender who had JUST STOPPED JOE SAKIC ON A BREAKAWAY!

"You know," Fleury said with a smile Wednesday, "when a player scores goals, he's always very happy."

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm4: Fleury knocks down Calvert's wrister

Why wouldn't a goaltender be very happy about stopping them?

The thrill isn't gone for Fleury at age 32. He got a chance to play when Matt Murray sustained a lower-body injury during warmups before Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and now the Penguins have a 3-1 lead in their best-of-7 series in the Eastern Conference First Round. Game 5 is at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, FS-O).

"It's fun," Fleury said. "I really enjoy it. You can feel more at ease, more comfortable, when you play a few games in a row. I'm enjoying this moment right now."

Fleury has been through many ups and downs during his career. He has excelled and struggled. He has started and backed up. He led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009, making a last-second save on Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 of the Final, and cheered when the Penguins won the Cup last season, watching most of their run from the bench.

Through it all, he has been one of the most popular players in the Pittsburgh locker room. A big reason is his personality. Everyone is different and does what works for them. What works for Fleury is smiling, laughing, joking, shouting -- not all the time, but a lot of the time. Not to put on a show, but to be himself. Not because he doesn't care, but because he does. It eases the pressure not only on himself, but on his teammates.

"Those are the good games, when you can be relaxed and having fun," Fleury said. "I think for me, that's what I like. I like the game a lot. I like to be out there. I like to win."

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin remembers the first time he was called up to the Penguins from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, during the 2013-14 season. He was 22. He was nervous. Then, after a flurry of shots and saves, Fleury let out a "Woo!"

"It was just kind of like, 'Oh my God. If he's loving it, I've just got to settle down a little bit,'" Dumoulin said. "He's in there laughing and making jokes. It definitely calms you when you're a defenseman back there in front of the net and you hear [Fleury] hooting and hollering after we're getting peppered with five or six shots. It's fun."

Defenseman Ian Cole remembers when the Penguins acquired him in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on March 2, 2015. For a brief time he was a teammate of Martin Brodeur, who played the last seven games of his illustrious NHL career with the Blues in 2014-15.

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm4: Fleury gloves Karlsson's shot

"He was very similar," Cole said. "He'd be chirping guys in practice. Guys would come down and he'd be like, 'Oh, not today!' And they both kind of have that little French accent. So it kind of reminded me of Marty Brodeur, actually, who liked to give it to the guys, who liked to kind of be himself on the ice but not be the super-serious goalie who doesn't say anything.

"[Fleury], he's just so easygoing. He's always smiling. He never tries to show up his defensemen."

That is a key point: Fleury doesn't blame others. He blames himself, even when he shouldn't. No wonder his teammates were quick to blame themselves for defensive lapses in Games 3 and 4, when Fleury gave up nine goals on 71 shots after giving up two on 72 in Games 1 and 2.

"Guys that have played hockey long enough, if they make a mistake, they know immediately they've made a mistake," Cole said. "So having the goalie stare you down afterwards to make sure everyone else knows that you made a mistake, seems kind of redundant to me.

"So I think as a defenseman you appreciate when your goalie's like, 'Hey, it's OK, bud. Don't worry about it.' Or he'll say, 'Oh, my bad, I should have had that.' And you're like, 'What are you talking about? I'm the one that lost the puck and let up a breakaway. What do you mean you should have had that?'"

Hey, if his teammates never made mistakes, Fleury would never get to live his dream. He never would have had that chance to stop Sakic, or Lidstrom, or so many others.

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm3: Fleury uses mask to rob Dubinsky in OT

"You see him after the whistle," Dumoulin said. "You see he's got a big smile on his face because he loves it. He's not putting the blame on anyone. He's just loving that he's getting the shots and he's saving them."

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