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'Flower' Blooms

by Mike Prisuta / Pittsburgh Penguins
This time the Penguins held the third-period lead.

One of the main reasons that there was another third-period lead to protect in the first place was the play of Marc-Andre Fleury in periods one and two.

Were you really anticipating anything other than what Fleury gave the Penguins in Game 5 against the Canadiens?

Game 4 had been one of those games; they happen occasionally.

Tom Pyatt on a bad angle from the far corner.

Max Lapierre on a wraparound.

Brian Gionta off Kris Letang.

Not this time.

As he had after a sub-par Game 1 in the first round against Ottawa, Fleury bounced back well enough to dazzle on Saturday night at Mellon Arena.

It’s what he does. It’s one of the reasons he’s won five consecutive playoff series and eight of his last nine.

It’s one of the reasons the Penguins are up three games to two in this Eastern Conference semifinal after Saturday night’s 2-1 gem in net.

“I was joking with him in warmups,” Brooks Orpik said. “He was stopping everything in warmups.

“I think for him a lot of times it’s his focus, really. We all know how good he is, how skilled he is. When he’s focused he’s at his best.”

The Canadiens fired 18 shots on Fleury in the opening 40 minutes of this potentially pivotal showdown, only one less than the Penguins had gotten on Jaroslav Halak and as many as Montreal had managed in the entirety of the 2-0 shutout Fleury posted in Game 3.

As was the case then, the Canadiens had some gorgeous looks in Game 5.

Sniper Mike Cammalleri had one less than two minutes in; Fleury said no.

Pyatt (him again) wound up with a partial breakaway after a faceoff win by the Penguins in the Montreal end; Pyatt was denied.

Scott Gomez with time and space from a bad angle to Fleury’s left; kick save and a beauty.

In the second period it was more of the same.

The sellout crowd of 17,132 - the Pens’ 165th consecutive such gathering - took to chanting Fleury’s name after he stoned Tomas Plekanec twice from the doorstep during a power play.

The majority of the time it was one at a time for Montreal in the Pittsburgh end, a tribute to how well rebounds were controlled and cleared and how closely opposing forwards were marked.

But when all else failed … “Fleur-y, Fleur-y, Fleur-y.”

The third period was Fleury’s busiest and perhaps his best, as the desperate Habs managed 15 more shots on net. It took Halak being pulled while Montreal was on a power play for the Canadiens to finally solve Fleury with 29.7 seconds remaining.

Too little, too late.

The crowd chanted Fleury’s name one final time when he was announced as the games No. 1 star, after stopping 32 of 33 shots.

The performance was nothing the Penguins hadn’t seen from their netminder before, particularly in obvious bounce-back and/or big-game scenarios.

“He’s been that guy for us,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s proven that he’s a guy who bounces back and is focused after a tough loss, a bad game or in big situations.

“He’s done it before. He did it in Game 3 (against the Canadiens) and he did it in Game 5 (Saturday night). It was a big performance from him.” 

Game 5 was also a reminder to the Canadiens and any other interested observers that if this series boils down to a battle of special teams and goaltending the Penguins are as well-equipped to win it that way as they are comfortable relying on those aspects of their game to make the difference.

Halak is the guy who’s been making headlines, but Fleury’s the one with the Cup on his resume.

That’s not something the Penguins ever forget.

Mike Prisuta is the sports director for WDVE-FM in Pittsburgh and the sports anchor for “Jim, Randy & the DVE Morning Show.”
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