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Fleury Proves Himself as Clutch Netminder

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
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Hockey is a game of inches and that cliché was never truer than last year’s final seconds of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in Detroit. Those remaining seconds will be rebroadcast for ages, and the man at the center of that dramatic scene was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.


Pittsburgh was clinging to a 2-1 lead with six seconds remaining and a faceoff in the Penguins zone. The Red Wings won the draw and Brian Rafalski threw a shot towards the net. The puck, however, caromed to the side of the goal and right to the stick of future Hall of Fame blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom.

Lidstrom’s shot was the Red Wings’ last hope for tying the game and forcing overtime. But Fleury alertly tracked the puck and threw his body across the crease, blocking down the puck as the clock expired. And the Penguins celebrated their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Even though the sequence could be the defining moment of Fleury’s career – or at least the most memorable – the 24-year-old netminder treated it as just another save.

“I’ve seen it a couple of times, it was a pretty cool highlight for my career,” Fleury said. “I don’t know, it was just a save. I’m happy he didn’t score on that one.”

For Fleury, who also has a shot at cracking Team Canada's lineup for the 2010 Olympic Games, the victory was even sweeter because he was able to bounce back after a tough 5-0 loss in Game 5 that put the Penguins on the brink of elimination. Fleury turned his two finest postseason performances in Games 6 and 7. In those final two contests he allowed only two goals on 50 shots and made a critical save on a Dan Cleary breakaway to propel the Penguins to their Cup championship.

“Everybody has their challenges. There’s always a lot of pressure on a goalie,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “(Fleury) had that pressure and had to deal with it, earned winning it and was a big part of us winning it.

“By goaltending standards he’s still young. It’s pretty amazing that he was able to accomplish that at a young age. We’ve been together through some tough losses, so to see him be on the right side of this one, especially a big one, it’s great and he proved it through the whole playoffs. He won a couple big game sevens, not only won them but was a big part of them. He’s deserved everything he’s got.”

“It was a good time, great feeling,” Fleury said. “Now it’s a new season. We’ve got to start from scratch, no matter if we won or not. We’ve got to do it again this year. Mentally it’s good that we know we can do it and we can get there, but at the same time we can’t get complacent.”

Fleury’s general demeanor has helped him handle the stresses and pressures that come from being a goaltender in the NHL. Even when times are tough, Fleury remains upbeat, positive and always has a smile on his face.

We’ve been together through some tough losses, so to see him be on the right side of this one, especially a big one, it’s great and he proved it through the whole playoffs. He won a couple big game sevens, not only won them but was a big part of them. He’s deserved everything he’s got. - Sidney Crosby
“I think we’ve got a pretty up-beat locker room and he adds to that,” Crosby said. “He’s happy to be here every day. We all have tough times or face tough stints during the season. He really finds a way to keep a smile on his face and keeps competing. No matter what the circumstances he’s happy to be here and makes sure he works hard out there on the ice.”

“I think pretty much I’ve always been like that,” Fleury said. “I think when I first came in I was worrying too much about the wrong stuff and now I know that I’ll have bad games. I’ll have tough ones. The best thing to do is to forget about it, start over the next day and try to do better. It’s such a long season. It’s going to happen and the best thing to do is try to bounce back as soon as possible to get back on track.”

And part of that attitude has come from Fleury maturing as a player and person. It seems like so long ago that he made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old after being selected No. 1 overall in the 2003 Entry Draft.

“Time flies by so quick,” he said. “I just remember when I first came in here, how it was. I think since then I know what to expect more in camp and the season and playoffs. I think it’s mostly experience I’ve gained from playing games and stuff happening to me, good stuff, bad stuff. I think when you go through those things and the next night you’re back on your game. I think that’s the best thing to do.”

And just five seasons later, Fleury can add “Stanley Cup Champion” to his already impressive resume.

“I thought the last two years he came to camp in good spirits and ready to go,” Meloche said. “By winning (the Cup), the monkey’s off his back. He proved he could win. His work habit hasn’t changed, he’s a hard worker, plays every practice like a game, tries to stop everything that’s thrown at him. I’m sure mentally he’s a little more at peace.

"His attitude and his work ethic and everything coming to the rink hasn’t changed at all. I’m confident that it should be another good year.”
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