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X-Factor: Penguins' Fleury must silence critics

by Dan Rosen

Marc-Andre Fleury's resume includes a Stanley Cup championship, two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and close to 300 regular-season wins in more than 500 appearances. For most goalies, a resume like that would be enough to quiet any critics, to silence any doubters heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Marc-Andre Fleury
Goalie - PIT
RECORD: 39-18-5
GAA: 2.37 | SVP: 0.915
Not for Fleury. Not even close.

Fleury's championship ring, 45 wins in 80 postseason appearances, and 288 regular-season victories won't help the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in their Eastern Conference First Round series, which begins Wednesday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC). In fact, if Fleury doesn't play better than he has in recent postseasons, the Penguins may not make it out of the first round.

Fleury is on the hot seat starting this week because of his recent playoff performances. His seat won't cool unless he delivers for the Penguins the way he did late last decade, when he led them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .933 save percentage, and then to the Stanley Cup championship in 2009.

Fleury's numbers in 2009 weren't even all that impressive (2.61 GAA and .908 save percentage), but he gave up two goals on 50 shots to win Games 6 and 7 of the Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings.

Since winning the Cup, Fleury is 14-16 with a .880 save percentage and 3.18 goals-against average in 31 playoff appearances. His statistics since 2012 are even worse; Fleury has an .857 save percentage and 4.11 GAA in 11 appearances.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had to replace Fleury with Tomas Vokoun after four games in the first-round series against the New York Islanders last postseason. Fleury gave up six goals on 24 shots in Game 4, which came after yielding four goals in Games 2 and 3. He didn't play again until he replaced Vokoun late in the first period of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. Fleury allowed three more goals on 17 shots.

What's confounding, though, is Fleury has always put up solid numbers in the regular season. Before his playoff meltdown last season, he won 23 of his 33 appearances with a 2.39 GAA and .916 save percentage.

"I think I had a good season last year, but nobody remembers that, right?" Fleury told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this season.

The Penguins addressed the concerns about Fleury in the offseason by replacing former goalie coach Gilles Meloche with Mike Bales. Fleury responded by going 39-18-5 with five shutouts, a 2.37 GAA and .915 save percentage. They're typical numbers for Fleury, who has averaged 39 wins, a .915 save percentage and 2.35 GAA in each of the past three 82-game regular seasons.

But like last season, nobody will remember the wins, shutouts, big-time performances or the acrobatic saves, such as the one he made on Red Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson in a shootout last week, if Fleury doesn't perform at the same level or better in the playoffs.

The Penguins showed their faith in Fleury by keeping him as their No. 1 goalie after a second straight playoff flop in 2013. He answered by helping them secure the second-most points in the Eastern Conference, but Fleury knows there's only one way to silence his critics, and it has nothing to do with his resume, no matter how impressive it is.


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