Marc-André Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist were caught in a staring match Sunday afternoon. Back and forth the play went, and back and forth the saves went.
It became obvious about halfway through the game that the goalie that blinked first likely would be on the losing end of Game 2 in this best-of-seven series.
Sorry Henrik, but Marc-André was a rock on this afternoon.
By stopping all 26 shots he faced, Fleury made Jordan Staal
’s power-play goal 13:55 into the second period stand up in a 2-0 victory. It was his second shutout in six playoff games this month. Adam Hall added a window-dressing empty-netter with 17 seconds to play to send the 17,132 at Mellon Arena into a tizzy.
The Penguins now lead the Eastern Conference semifinal two games to none with the series shifting to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 Tuesday night. Game 4 is Thursday and if the Rangers can solve Fleury at home, Game 5 will be back here Sunday.
“As a goalie it never feels good to give up four goals, so I was happy to come back and play a good game,” Fleury said, referencing his 5-4 victory in Game 1. “Also, I think the players in front of me did a good job.”
That Fleury was able to bounce back from an average performance in Game 1, when the pucks were bouncing like a bunch of loose basketballs, is a testament to his resolve, which has come into question during his short career.
Fleury failed twice at winning gold in the World Junior Championships, had three bad showings in the AHL playoffs and last year was quickly ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Ottawa Senators, who beat him 18 times in five games.
“It’s a huge confidence boost for him,” Penguins left wing Pascal Dupuis said. “Not that he really needed it, because we all know Marc-André was going to bounce back and play awesome in the next game. He played unbelievable for us and he got a shutout.”
Fleury made only 20 saves in Game 1, but stopped half that amount in the first period Sunday. One of his most important saves came 8:32 into the second period, when he took away a good portion of the net from Jaromir Jagr and made a right leg pad save.
Jagr said he was going to shoot before Martin Straka got in his path. By the time he had another chance, Fleury had taken away the net.
In the third period, Fleury appeared to have the puck frozen underneath his pads after Straka’s attempt in-close, but it kept swimming through and wound up in the goal. However, the referee behind the goal, Dan O’Halloran, blew the whistle when he lost sight of the puck, so the goal was quickly waved off.
“I thought it was an accurate call,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “I don’t know if it was a quick whistle or not. If his intention is to blow the whistle and it hasn’t crossed the goal line, that seems like it’s fair to me.”
To no fault of Fleury’s, Renney felt his team made Fleury’s job easier Sunday by not crashing his crease and creating screens in front of him. The Rangers made it a priority to get in Martin Brodeur’s kitchen in the opening round, but haven’t done that yet against Fleury.
“No … I don’t think so,” Renney said when asked if they made life difficult for Fleury. “We need to make sure he has some screens to find the puck, and force the defensemen to turn and help him find rebounds. We need a little more traffic in front of him. I’m not going to suggest it was really easy for him, but it certainly could have been tougher.”
Fleury’s afternoon would have been a heck of a lot tougher had it not been for the Penguins’ strong play in front of him. That includes the penalty-kill, which was brilliant in limiting the Rangers to just nine shots in six chances.
The Penguins have allowed only two power-play goals over 21 shorthanded situations in their six playoff games. It’s no coincidence they are undefeated in the postseason.
“Penalty-killing has a lot to do with the goalie, and obviously Marc-Andre has been playing unbelievably since he got back from his injury,” Dupuis said. “It makes it easier to kill penalties that way.”
The way the goalies – Lundqvist was brilliant in his own right, stopping 30 of the 31 shots he faced – were playing, NBC would have had to cancel its late night programming had it not been for Evgeni Malkin’s vision and a great move in close quarters by Staal on one of the Penguins’ five power plays.
“He’s got great vision, and I knew he was going to try to find me,” Staal said of Malkin. “He’s a great player, a great passer. I’m just glad to be the finisher.”
Malkin brought the puck low, maneuvering around Marc Staal. Dan Girardi slid across to help on Malkin, but he got the puck through to the slot for Jordan Staal, who deftly shifted the puck from his backhand to forehand before lifting it into the net.
It was the only time the Penguins beat Lundqvist, but with Fleury and a strong defense, it was enough.
“We knew he was playing real well, and he made some great saves right off the bat,” Jordan Staal said of Lundqvist. “For that to happen, you just have to keep plugging away and keep putting pucks on net. We knew it was going to go in sooner or later so that’s what we did.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer