The Penguins are in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the team’s defense are a big reason for the Penguins’ success.
Together, Fleury and the defense silenced the Ottawa Senators in a four-game sweep. The Penguins set franchise records for fewest goals allowed (5) in a four-game playoff series. That broke the previous record of six in 1970 against Oakland.
Now, the focus will remain on the Penguins’ defense, especially Fleury, against the New York Rangers. The series is not just a battle between two Atlantic Division foes, but also a showdown of two of the NHL’s top young goaltenders in Fleury and New York’s Henrik Lundqvist.
“As far as we are concerned, it’s been a process. We try to take a lot of pride in playing well defensively,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “The goalie is always a key player on your team. They have a good one in Lundqvist. We have a good one and we really feel comfortable with Fleury. It’s really going to be a good battle.”
Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney agrees.
“That’s probably the real intriguing thing about the series. I’d say they are the two best goalies in the league as of this moment,” he said. “It’s going to be a good test for both those guys. I think Fleury realizes he is playing at the top of his game right now and he’s confident and that’s good for us.”
Fleury, the 2003 first-overall draft pick, enjoyed another successful year between the pipes for the Penguins. However, the 23-year-old’s season was hampered by a severe high ankle sprain. Fleury seemed to be finding his rhythm before hurting the ankle on Dec. 6 in Calgary. He had won his four previous starts heading into that contest.
He missed the Penguins’ next 28 games, but returned to Pittsburgh in style following five AHL appearances to sharpen his skills. Once he returned to the lineup on Feb. 28, Fleury was nearly unbeatable as he posted a 10-2-1 record and a 1.53 goals-against average and .948 save percentage to close the regular season.
“It was a long time to be out and not playing. I am just happy to be back,” Fleury said. “When I came back, the team got some wins and has been doing well. It just feels good to be back and having some fun again. When I first came back from the injury, I was a little rusty maybe. I went to the AHL for a couple games and then came back and felt more into it. Every game, I keep feeling better. ”
Fleury credits his personal success to the overall team success.
“Yeah, that’s the thing. I think the whole team has been awesome. They are a big part why I was doing well, too,” he said. “We try to help each other out and hopefully we’ll keep doing that this series.”
Still, Fleury knows going against the Rangers is no easy task.
“I think they have a good team. They have many skilled players. They have a good power play,” he said. “If we can be disciplined throughout the series and play well defensively, I’m sure we’ll get some goals, too.”
While Fleury has been strong in goal for the Penguins, Lundqvist has been solid for the Rangers as well. The 26-year-old finished the regular season with a 37-24-10 record, a 2.23 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. He led the NHL with 10 shutouts.
|Henrik Lundqvist |
“He’s big and he doesn’t get caught out of position a whole lot. I think that’s his biggest strength. You don’t see him caught out of the net. He stays in there and takes up a lot of net,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “You can’t change anything as a shooter when you’re playing against a guy like that. You still have to try to hit the holes and hope it goes in. He’s a guy who is going to take up space, so if you do get a chance to get him out of position – the more shots you take, the better chances you get for rebounds and things like that. You can’t change anything you do, though. He’s a great goalie.”
Penguins winger Petr Sykora concurs.
“Henrik reminds me a little of Marty Brodeur. He has that similar style,” he said. “I think, most of all, playing against the Rangers is going to be a battle of the goalies. Flower is playing great and Lundqvist is playing great, too.
“Right now, you really have to work for every single goal. They are not going to give you a lot of chances. You have to create a lot of traffic and take advantage of the chances they give you.”
Crosby knows the Penguins must continue to rack up the shots as they did against the Senators.
“We have to be focused on that. I thought we did a great job of that in the first round and that’s something we want to continue,” Crosby said. “Throughout the season, we probably didn’t generate as much as we want to. We’ll find a way to do that.”