One of Marc-Andre Fleury
’s strengths that makes him a top-flight netminder in the National Hockey League is his ability to come back strong following a less-than-stellar performance.
Fleury proved this yet again on Saturday afternoon stopping 27 of 30 shots in a 6-3 Penguins’ victory at Mellon Arena. His solid effort comes less than 48 hours after he was pulled against the New York Rangers on Thursday after surrendering four goals on 12 shots in 26:30 minutes.
“We always know that he bounces back,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “It’s going to happen. We all have tough nights, and unfortunately when you’re a goalie, every one kind of looks at you when you get pulled. He responds in the best way possible every time. There is no worry there, and he did it once again. He bounced back, and there was no question that he would.”
Actually, 2:28 into the second period there was some doubt that Fleury, who was making just his second appearance in the past 20 days because of the Olympic break, was going to bounce back.
It was at that point that Dallas winger Loui Eriksson one-timed a Brad Richards’ pass behind Fleury from three feet away to give the Stars a 3-1 lead. Eriksson’s goal was the Stars’ second tally in 59 seconds as they quickly broke a 1-1 tie.
“I think he was looking to bounce back and he probably didn’t get a lot of confidence from the first (couple minutes of the second) period,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “A lot of that didn’t have anything to do with himself or his play.”
Momentum began to shift the Penguins way at the 15:59 mark when Chris Kunitz
scored to get the Penguins back within one at 3-2.
Then Fleury, whose win gave him his third-career 30-win season, made what has to be considered a game-changing save 57 seconds after the Kunitz tally.
A great passing sequence by the Stars saw Brad Richards staring at an open cage to the right of Fleury. As Richards went to throw the puck into the net, Fleury dove back in desperation and made a spectacular stick save which has to rank as one of the top stops of the season for the Penguins.
“I saw him get the puck at the side of the net and I just dove for it,” Fleury said. “I tried to just get it with my stick and the puck went up in the air.”
“When he made that save, there was talk on the bench that was the save we needed,” Bylsma added.
Following Fleury’s big save Pascal Dupuis
and Crosby scored to flip the 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 Penguins’ lead they would never relinquish.
Fleury made another game-saving stop at the outset of the third period. Dallas was on a five-on-three two-man advantage and looking to tie the game, 4-4.
A cross-ice pass through the box of the Penguins’ penalty killers landed on the blade of Brenden Morrow to the left of Fleury’s crease. The Penguins netminder quickly slid from left to right to get a pad on Morrow’s shot. Forty-nine seconds later Crosby tallied his second goal of the afternoon to increase the lead to 5-3, and the Penguins were on their way to victory.
“On Thursday I didn’t do a whole lot so it felt good to make a couple solid saves to keep the team in the game,” Fleury said. “It was good mentally as well.”
Fleury was a brick wall for the Penguins down the stretch, stopping all 13 shots he faced in the final period.
“In that third period I thought he was confident and solid and controlling his rebound,” Bylsma said. “The shots from the point that were going through traffic, he was sharp on. Even if there was a rebound it dropped to his feet and he covered it quickly. It was good to see his team respond and get goals for him.”
“I definitely felt better (as the game went on),” Fleury said. “I felt better in my crease knowing where I was in the net. That got better as the game went on, too.”