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Fleury Enjoying Opportunity To Lead Pens

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Marc-Andre Fleury is the ultimate teammate. All he wants to do is contribute to the Pens' success in any way he can, and for the last calendar year, that took on somewhat of a different meaning for the franchise netminder.

It wasn't just about going in and winning games. It was, as former Pens head coach Herb Brooks once said, a lot about how "the name on the front (of the jersey) is a heck of a lot more important than the one on the back." 

It all began late in the 2015-16 regular season. Fleury suffered a concussion and was supplanted by Matt Murray as the team's starting goalie during their 2016 Stanley Cup championship run. Then this regular season, Fleury had to adjust to a lot less playing time - going to 38 games played after usually starting in over 60 - while dealing with constant trade rumors.

And the entire time, Fleury remained the consummate professional and person, being a friend and mentor to Murray while still coming to the rink every day with a smile on his face.

But Fleury was called back into the starting role when Murray suffered an injury in warmups before Game 1 of the First Round against Columbus. And Fleury displayed so much character and compete in the emergency nod, producing a phenomenal performance in the 3-1 Pens' win.

That was the first of three straight victories for Fleury, who has risen up the ranks in the team record books - establishing a franchise record for playoff games by a goaltender (103) while tying Tom Barrasso for playoff wins (56). And now that he's back being the guy for Pittsburgh, Fleury admitted he's having a blast.

"It is a lot of fun, especially that we're winning," said Fleury from the team hotel on Monday, an off-day for the Pens following their 5-4 overtime win in Game 3 on Sunday leading to a 3-0 series lead.

"It's fun to be part of it, to be contributing," he added. "It's a good feeling when you're a part of it and you win those games, win in overtime and get some good emotions there."

Right now, the emotions Fleury's feeling are all positive. No stress, no anxiety, none of the negative ones he felt at times throughout the season - particularly during those last couple of weeks heading into the trade deadline. He's not thinking about his future in Pittsburgh. He's focused on the present.

"When you're playing, when you're in the action, I think you don't have as much time to worry about other things," he said. "I just get ready for the next game, try to play good in that game and I just find you have less maybe down time thinking about stuff.

"This has been very joyful."

The only stress Fleury has felt this series has been on the ice, not off. And the best part is how he's handled it and overcome it - particularly after getting the emergency start in Game 1 and then responding to an early deficit in Game 3.

The Jackets scored off the opening faceoff to take a 1-0 lead just 11 seconds in, and built on that to give them a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission. But Fleury continued to stay in the present, just thought about making the next save - including a game-changer in overtime that went off, fittingly enough, the helmet decorated with pictures and names of his beloved teammates throughout his career - and ended up backstopping his team to a comeback win.

"We've got to be able to put things behind us and get back to the game plan and stay focused and just compete, and I thought Marc might have been our best player at that last night," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "When goals go in early on a goaltender, it's easy for a guy to get rattled and I didn't think Marc did at all. I thought he was focused, I thought he competed extremely hard and stayed in the moment, and that's important, especially in that position."

Fleury had a fantastic response when talking about how he stayed focused in that situation.

"Take a deep breath, you know? Try to relax and maybe say a couple bad words then you can relax," he laughed.

Overall, he's satisfied with his play so far through the first three games of the series. But of course, being the teammate that he is, he deflected credit to his teammates.

"It's been good," he said. "I thought our team's been playing great in front of me too. It's a big help for me."

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