Penguins fans gave Marc-Andre Fleury
a vote of confidence Friday night, and Fleury thanked them with an impressive performance to help the Penguins tally a 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay.
Before the game even started, the entire crowd at CONSOL Energy Center chanted “Fleury! Fleury!” to let the 25-year old goaltender know they believed in him.
“That was awesome,” Fleury said. “The crowd tonight was behind me right at the start cheering. It was a good feeling.”
“It was pretty cool what (the fans) did for him at the start of the game,” Maxime Talbot said. “I’m sure that gave him a little extra jump when they were screaming his name.”
“It was great from our fans,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “You could tell they were standing in the goal with him.”
And the fans weren’t the only ones with confidence in the ‘Flower.’
“There was no doubt from our bench that he was going to play well tonight and he did,” Talbot said.
Fleury – who notched his 150th victory to make him the seventh-youngest goaltender in history to hit that milestone – came up big early when he made a diving stick save on Steven Stamkos. Then he made another save while lying on his back during the chaotic scrum that ensued in the crease.
“(The first 10 minutes) were pretty good,” Fleury said. “Maybe I played a little bit more relaxed tonight. I tried to not worry too much and go out there and just play hockey.”
More chants rained down onto the ice after the series, and the Penguins skaters who were on the ice embraced Fleury for making the excellent saves.
He exorcised some demons in the second period when Martin St. Louis made a nice move around a defender for a breakaway.
On Oct. 27 in Tampa, St. Louis had an eerily similar play. He made a beautiful move to beat a sprawling Fleury top-shelf to score the game-winning goal.
Friday, St. Louis tried a similar move, but Fleury challenged him and made it across the crease in time to keep the game scoreless.
A few minutes later, the Penguins had a 2-0 lead.
“I just tried to stay calm and focused,” Fleury said. “It was a little bit of a relief.”
Fleury entered the game with a 1-6 record and spent the week yielding questions about his confidence. But Fleury didn’t waiver at all against the Lightning, frequently coming out of the crease to challenge shots and staying in position on almost every play.
The few times the Lightning pushed Fleury out of position, the Penguins defense had his back. Late in the second period, Fleury made a kick save away from the crease. The puck went right to Sean Bergenheim, who had an open net in front of him. But Sidney Crosby
came flying in on the backcheck and poked the puck away.
“Our guys played good, they didn’t give up very much,” Fleury said. “They blocked a lot of shots and didn’t give up a lot of odd-man rushes.”
All of that confidence earned Fleury his first victory in the Penguins’ new home.
“It’s a good feeling to get a win at home,” he said.RELATED ARTICLE: Aftermath: Penguins 5, Lightning 1
The only goal Flower gave up was a five-on-three penalty kill, where St. Louis’s cross-ice pass to Stamkos left Fleury with little chance to make the save. He responded with two saves in a row just seconds later.
Later in that same penalty kill, the Penguins faced another five-on-three situation. Clinging to a one-goal lead, the Penguins defense and Fleury buckled down and killed off the penalties in impressive fashion.
That prompted even more chants celebrating the netminder.
“(Tampa Bay) had good players out there, with a lot of room and a lot of time to shoot,” Fleury said. “They scored on the first one, but we worked hard to get out of the second one.”
After that, the Penguins exploded for three more goals to seal the deal and give Flower the confidence-building victory.
Fleury did, however, caution that it was “just one game” and that he needs to stay focused.
“I just have to stop one puck at a time,” he said.