PITTSBURGH -- Marc-Andre Fleury
's heroics didn't come as a surprise to those who have watched the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie this season.
Making the big save is something he's been doing throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially at Mellon Arena. Heading into Game 6, the most important game of the season for the goaltender and his team, Fleury's coaches believed in him. His teammates believed, too. Most important, Fleury believed -- and that made all the difference in the Penguins' 2-1 win over the Red Wings on Tuesday night.
Fleury's heroics helped the Penguins extend their season to the max, as he made 25 saves to force the Final to a seventh game Friday night in Detroit.
Fleury was calm and collected early on and kept his poise during the pressure-packed final minutes when he was under siege from the desperate Red Wings. His stop on Dan Cleary's breakaway
with 1:41 remaining in the third could be considered the save of the series so far.
"I knew that could be a turning point if I could make the save," Fleury said. "As first, I was kind of thinking about forechecking, but I tried to be patient and wait for him to make the first move and I got a piece of it."
Cleary, who had a team-high six shots, broke in alone and went forehand to backhand. But Fleury stayed with him before sticking out his left pad to make the stop.
"You never like to see the other team have a breakaway like that. But myself and a lot of other guys expected Flower to stop it," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby
said. "The way he was playing tonight, he saved us many times, but we have all the confidence in the world with him back there.
"I'm not going to say I liked seeing a breakaway that late in the game, but I had all the confidence in the world that he was going to make that stop."
Fleury also stopped a backhander by Johan Franzen with just 16 seconds to play.
Fleury frustrated Henrik Zetterberg early and often in Game 6, including 3:25 into the game when he flared his right pad out to stop a one-timer between the circles. Fleury also got a little help from the left post on another Zetterberg rocket from the right circle late in the second period.
"He just came through with a huge game," Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy
said. "Just when everyone doesn't think he's playing up to par, he just steps up and that's why we have faith that he'll get the job done. He's a great player; he's our backbone."
For the fifth time this postseason, Fleury came up big after a bad night. Fleury now has a 5-0 record, a 1.85 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage in games after yielding four or more goals. He allowed five on 21 shots in a 5-0 loss to Detroit in Game 5 on Saturday.
"I think I've learned throughout my years that it doesn't matter how many goals you give up in a game," Fleury said. "I think it's a matter if you lose, you lose. So it doesn't matter if I give one or five. So I try to forget about it, put it in the back and next day come to the rink with a smile on. I just try to be positive and confident."
Pens center Jordan Staal
, who scored the game's first goal 51 seconds into the second period, knew Fleury would come up huge.
"Flower was unbelievable; he's been there for us the whole year and he did a great job of bouncing back and playing hard for us when we needed him most," Staal said. "This is why everyone in this room has confidence in Flower. We know he can come up big and we knew he wasn't about to let anything by."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.