Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was clutch when it had to be in the first round of the American Hockey League playoffs.
So was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury backstopped the Baby Penguins to two crucial wins over Bridgeport as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rallied from the brink of elimination twice to upend the Sound Tigers in the best-of-seven series, 4-3.
“It was win and keep going or lose and go home,” Fleury said. “It was just fun to be playing and to win those games.”
Fleury, the first-overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, stopped 33 of 35 shots in a 3-2 victory in Game 6. He then saved 27 of 31 shots in Saturday’s 5-4 Game 7 triumph to eliminate the Sound Tigers.
“It was just nice to be playing and to be part of that team,” Fleury said.
Fleury shared goaltending duties with Dany Sabourin, the AHL’s top goaltender, during the series. Sabourin went 2-2 with wins in Games 3 and 4. Fleury finished the series with a 2-1 mark. He lost Game 2, 3-2.
“We can’t make too many mistakes in goal,” Fleury said. “The team has been doing well lately, so that makes our job easier, too.”
Fleury and defenseman Ryan Whitney joined the Baby Penguins from Pittsburgh for the playoffs. Both have adjusted well to the postseason.
“We feel more comfortable. We both played in Wilkes-Barre this year and we knew all the guys and coaches. It wasn’t too tough to get used to,” Fleury said. “It was nice to get some wins and get on a roll like that. It was good that the team did well. Everyone is looking forward to the next game.”
The Baby Penguins welcome rival Hershey to Wilkes-Barre on Thursday to open the East Division Finals.
“They have a very good team,” Fleury said. “It’s a pretty good rivalry. It’s exciting.”
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton must overcome its emotional series triumph and re-focus on this new series against Hershey.
“We had a couple days before the next game and it’s a good to relax a little bit,” Fleury said. “I think everybody will be ready to go again.”
The Baby Penguins hope to take advantage of home ice in this best-of-seven series. Against Bridgeport, the visiting team won every game until Wilkes-Barre/Scranton triumphed at home in Game 7.
“For the last game, that was good to be at home. We had some very loud fans,” Fleury said. “It’s amazing just to be on the ice and have people [going crazy]. It’s fun to be playing with them in the stands.”
Game 2 is in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday before the series shifts to Hershey for Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 on Tuesday.