Now THAT’S the Marc-Andre Fleury
we know. The one that steals games with a flash of his pad, a flick of his glove or a lateral slide across the crease. The one that produces saves that he shouldn’t be able to make, but does anyway.
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That’s the Fleury who showed up for Game 5 of the Penguins’ opening round playoff series with the Flyers on Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center, backstopping Pittsburgh to a 3-2 victory and forcing a Game 6 Sunday in Philadelphia.
“He was just unbelievable,” defenseman Kris Letang
said. “He was really strong. On top of his game like I’ve seen him many times this year. I’m just happy for him.”
How good was Fleury? When asked about which of his teammate’s saves stood out the most, Letang was, well, at a loss for words.
“Well, the two on (Danny) Briere. I think it’s three…I don’t even know,” Letang said, shaking his head in amazement. “I couldn’t even really count anymore. The one on (Scott) Hartnell, too, at the end, was unbelievable.”
Fleury will be the first to tell you that the first three games of this series were uncharacteristic showings for him. He knows he didn’t play his best and that his performances fell short of his usual excellence.
But what makes a goaltender special at this level is having the mental toughness to bounce back and overcome tough games like those. And Fleury literally couldn’t have rebounded any more emphatically than he did on Friday night.
“I don’t know the last time (I played like that),” Fleury said when asked about his play early in the series. “Definitely not happy losing the first three games, but nothing was over. We just tried to focus one game at a time, one period at a time and keep on playing.”
Fleury finished with 24 saves in the contest. Every one of those was meaningful, and a healthy portion were game-changers.
Fleury especially dazzled in the third period with the Penguins clinging to a one-goal lead and the chance to extend their season, producing save after jaw-dropping save for a total of 14 in the frame to keep his team alive.
“Interesting,” Fleury responded with a laugh when asked how that final frame felt.
Fleury shined brightest on the Flyers’ final power play of the night – which, mind you, was 2-for-4 on the evening and 11-for-19 on the series entering that opportunity – with seven spectacular saves.
First, Jakub Voracek – all alone at the circle – got a pass and had what felt like light years to pick a spot and shoot it, and was denied by Fleury. Next, Claude Giroux got a similar chance from the opposite side of the ice on a sneaky shot through traffic – stopped by Fleury. Jaromir Jagr followed that up with an uncontested shot from the slot area, and Fleury gobbled that one up as well.
But the crowning jewel of those quality chances came with 20 seconds left on that man-advantage, when Briere was wide-open on the backdoor. He got the puck and it seemed inevitable that the tying goal lay on the blade of his stick – before Fleury slid over to get a pad on his first shot. Then Briere collected his own rebound and got an equally dangerous chance, but Fleury thwarted him again.
“Yeah, it was a little bit of action there,” Fleury laughed. “I still thought our guys did a good job. They blocked some shots and took guys at the backdoors and stuff. The crowd was awesome, too. Being loud and giving us the energy throughout it.”
But while that penalty kill will be remembered as the game’s crucial moment, Fleury had to be sharp from the drop of the puck – and he was.
“It was nice to make some saves, just preserve the one-goal lead,” he said. “Coming into tonight though, they got some quick goals on the power play and nobody quit. I think everybody kept fighting all night and it paid off.”
The Penguins’ confidence in Fleury has never once wavered throughout this entire series. They know how extraordinary of a goaltender he’s capable of being, and usually is. And they know that's how he'll be Sunday in Philadelphia.
“Tonight, our team was good and Marc was at his best,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s the way it’ll be for Game 6 as well.”