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Flower in full bloom for Game 7

Fleury has the game of his life to help Pens advance

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

After every win, the Penguins give a Pirates batting helmet to the team's best player. Whoever receives it last gets to award it to the next player.

Following Pittsburgh's 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the Second Round to advance them to the Eastern Conference Final, Marc-Andre Fleury prepared to hand it off.

"Keep it! Keep it!" the boys yelled throughout the room.

Fleury laughed and proceeded to hand it to Bryan Rust, a very worthy recipient of it as the winger continued his clutch scoring in elimination games by getting the winner. But even so, as he placed the helmet upon his head, one of their teammates jokingly shouted, "Give it back to him!"

Fleury was that outstanding, posting 29 saves in yet another brilliant effort from the veteran netminder this postseason for the ninth playoff shutout of his career (only Henrik Lundqvist has more among active players with 10) and the first road Game 7 shutout in Penguins franchise history.

"He's been unbelievable," winger Patric Hornqvist said. "He got a shutout tonight and he's been our best player all playoffs."

"Tonight was for sure our best game of the playoffs and I think we're kidding ourselves if we don't give Flower an awful lot of credit," forward Matt Cullen added.

Fleury had to be sharp from the start, as the Caps came out strong in front of their home crowd, outshot the Pens 4-0 and dominated them for the first few minutes. The Pens goaltender weathered the flurry, if you will, and allowed his team to settle in. And from there, they took over.

"They came hard early on, so I thought we gathered ourselves, Flower made some saves," captain Sidney Crosby said. "And for at least the second and third we were more on our game and on our toes a little bit more."

That doesn't mean the Caps didn't continue to get their chances. They absolutely did. They were the NHL's best regular-season team for a reason, one of them being they have a ton of talented offensive players.

They had their stretches and created a lot, especially in the second period - and that's when Fleury came up with arguably the save of the game amongst many worthy candidates. Tom Wilson fed Alex Ovechkin for a point-blank one-timer, but Fleury was able to get over and get the shaft of his stick on the shot. As per his tradition, Fleury thanked his stick afterward.

"I said a little thank you," Fleury said with his trademark grin. "That was a big one."

It certainly was, and is right up there with the one Fleury had in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals in this same building against that same player (that breakaway stop on Ovechkin early in the game). 

Overall, Fleury's workload was heavy, as the Caps threw a lot at him. Not just pucks, but bodies too. He had so much going on around his net, but managed to stay calm and steady and get the job done - just like he's done all series and all playoffs long.

"A little tired, I'd say," Fleury laughed of his emotions after the game. "It's been a hard series. They're a good team. They came at us hard, they didn't quit until the end. But I'm real proud of our guys, the way we played. I thought the third period was awesome for us and we were able to hold onto the lead."

It's been one interesting year for Fleury, who took over the net after Matt Murray got injured in warmups before Game 1 of the First Round against Columbus and has been their best player ever since. In both that series and especially this one.

"He stole us more than one game this series and kept us in a lot of others," Cullen said. "We give him a lot of credit and we're all so happy for him and proud of him. You can't ask for a better teammate than Flower and with what he's gone through the last couple years, to step up the way he has."

"We're not in this position moving on if he doesn't play the way he did," added Crosby, who hunted down the game puck for his longtime teammate following the handshakes (even recruiting the Caps ice crew for assistance). "There were times where they had sustained pressure throughout games and he made some big saves, allowed us to stay in the game and allowed us to stay patient. He was huge for us all series long."

For Fleury, who's gone through a lot this season, the biggest key has been staying in the moment - particularly against a team as good as the Caps.

"I think our focus was just on this one," Fleury said. "For today, just this game, being ready for it. Not thinking about the past or future, just being in the moment, and we did."

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