FLEURY OF SAVES
If we went through and documented every spectacular save Marc-Andre Fleury
made in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 shootout win over Toronto at CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday, we’d probably be here all night.
OK, that may be a slight exaggeration. But truly, if it weren’t for Fleury’s efforts, it would have been near impossible for the Penguins to find a way to scratch out two points with their performance throughout much of the game.
"I’m not sure we deserved the fate we got tonight," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "Marc-Andre Fleury
played outstanding. He made some huge, huge saves. He allowed us to get to the shootout."
If you ask Fleury, he’ll tell you he’s disappointed that he allowed four goals. But talk to anyone else, and they’ll tell you the score could have been a lot worse if it weren’t for his outstanding play.
“I think after the second period, it could have easily been 8-0 (in Toronto’s favor),” forward Joe Vitale
said. “We let up some grade A opportunities and he pulled us out of it and keep us within distance where we’d still have a shot in the third.”
The Leafs didn’t seem to be affected by the All-Star break one bit, as they utilized their speed right away to get behind the Penguins defense and create a smorgasbord of breakaways and odd-man rushes.
They peppered Fleury with 14 shots in the first period alone, forcing him to come up with some tough saves on Joffrey Lupul in the slot, Mikhail Grabovski on a point-blank chance from that same area and a sequence of stops in the middle of a penalty kill.
“Flower played unbelievable,” defenseman Kris Letang
said. “He’s just on top of his game. He’s seeing every puck. He’s just playing unreal and gives us a chance to win every night.”
Though the Leafs would turn it on in the second and first half of the third to grab a 4-1 lead with 13:23 left in the final frame, Fleury didn’t get rattled. He just stayed focused on doing his job and keeping his teammates in the game.
He knew if he did that, they'd find a way to get back in it.
“I think with the bunch of guys we have in the room, I just try to make the next save and I believe that we can come back,” Fleury said. “They showed it tonight.”
Earlier this afternoon, head coach Dan Bylsma pointed out his team’s attitude and response during games as the difference between their winning and losing streaks.
When the Penguins were in the midst of their six-game winless stretch from Dec. 29 to Jan. 11, they said they needed to respond better when they are scored on. That’s something they’ve changed that’s helped turn losses into wins, and that mindset was on full display on Tuesday against Toronto.
Because despite falling behind 4-1 late in the third period and being outplayed for long stretches, the Penguins didn't get down and somehow managed to come away with its season-high eighth-straight win.
“Looking up and seeing 4-1, it was very indicative of how the game was going at that point in time. We came up with some big efforts,” Bylsma said.
The players refused to use the long break as an excuse, pointing out that Toronto had the same layoff and didn’t seem to be affected at all.
They took responsibility for their lackluster play and know if they come out like that Wednesday in Toronto, they probably won’t get the same result. But for now, they’ll take the two points.
“It’s a great comeback,” Letang said. “Everybody was chipping in tonight. It was a tough game but we kept pushing and we ended up with a win.”
Pittsburgh has now won five games when trailing after two periods. Entering Tuesday's game, the Leafs were 18-0 when leading after 40 minutes.
Prior to tonight, Pittsburgh’s top line of Chris Kunitz
, Evgeni Malkin
and James Neal
had been producing most of their offense.
The team said they needed to spread the load and take some of the weight off that trio’s shoulders. And on Tuesday, that’s exactly what they did.
“We have a lot of depth,” Letang said. “We talk a lot about ‘Geno’ because he has been playing unbelievable right now, but we still have three lines that can score goals and can spend time in the offensive-zone. They came up big tonight.”Matt Cooke
, Steve Sullivan
and Joe Vitale
all scored three big goals that allowed the Penguins to climb within 4-3 after being down 4-1 late in the final frame.
“We came up with some big efforts,” Bylsma said. “We got a great goal from ‘Sully’ on a fortunate play. It was a big goal for us. We got a goal from Joey V. to get within 4-3. It allowed us to get close to a comeback there.”
Though it would be Malkin who would force overtime with just 6.6 seconds left in regulation when Neal’s shot from the circle deflected off his shoulder area and into the net. Malkin then scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Penguins two points in the standings.
But his teammates were glad that they gave him some help tonight.
“It’s good to kind of give him a night off. He’s been our catalyst this whole year,” Vitale said. “We got to kind of get off his shoulders a little bit and it’s good to have some other guys step up and contribute.”
Pittsburgh has now gone to overtime in five of its last six games, with four of those contests advancing to a shootout. The Penguins have won all five games to improve their overtime record to 9-4 this season and their shootout mark to 7-2.
Fleury stopped all three Toronto shooters he faced on Tuesday, producing breathtaking saves against Grabovski, Lupul and Nazem Kadri to allow the Penguins to get the win with Malkin's goal. And Bylsma said the team's level of confidence in Fleury in such high-pressure situations is through the roof.
"I don’t know the exact numbers throughout the league, but I feel like he’s the best guy to have in there in the shootout," Bylsma said "I love having him back there. He’s been unbelievable again for us recently. We’ve been in a number of them, and I feel like they’re going to have a tough time getting a goal.
"When we get one goal or we see someone going to the net, I feel like he’s going to be there for us. Tonight he had a couple great shooters and I know he’s got to stop Phil Kessel, one of the best snipers in the league there at the end. I’d be lying to you if I told you I was watching, but he came up with another save. Deservedly for him, he gets a win."
Author: Michelle Crechiolo