Marc-Andre Fleury walked down the runway with the lights blacked out at PPG Paints Arena. He stepped onto the ice and into the reception of 18,644 cacophonous spectators. Fleury's blades glided toward the blue crease while his ears rang to the sound of "Fleury! Fleury!"
Fleury, 33, was used to this type of welcome from the citizenry of Pittsburgh from his previous 14 years in the Penguins organization. But usually when he receives such an ovation he was wearing the black and Pittsburgh gold sweater.
But on this night he was wearing the enemy's colors - black and Vegas gold. Still, Pens fans - who have supported Fleury throughout every up and down in his career - gave Fleury a hero's welcome in his first game back in Pittsburgh since being claimed this summer by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.
"It was just amazing, the support I've gotten over the years is just incredible," Fleury said. "I thank everybody for all these years and once again showing up tonight with such great support."
It was a surreal and draining day for Fleury, who suffered a 5-4 loss to the Penguins on Tuesday night.
"It was so different to be in this locker room, going on the ice in another jersey and seeing them coming at me instead of away from me," Fleury said. "Now I get to see what other goalies faced all these years.
"It was a lot going on, lots of emotions, little bit of stress, but it was worth it."
The love affair between Fleury and the city began prior to warmups. Fans, who typically gather at the Pens end of the ice to watch, instead stood their positions around the visiting goal holding their signs of support for "Flower."
The cheers began the moment Fleury took the ice and didn't end throughout the entire warmup. He soaked up every last second, waiting until the clock struck 0:00 before leaving the ice (Fleury usually leaves much earlier in warmups).
"I didn't know what to expect. In warmup I had goose bumps," Fleury said. "Before the game, people with (signs) and kind words. It's a night I won't forget."
Fleury also used warmup to catch up with some old teammates. He stretched and chatted with former creasemate Matt Murray. Fleury also had a jovial conversation with Phil Kessel near the red line. The two hugged and then skated away. Earlier that day Fleury saw Kessel in the hallway and requested: "No rockets top shelf tonight."
Kessel responded: "I gotta get at least one."
At the end of warmups Fleury skated toward his best friend Kris Letang. The Pens defenseman took a shot at Fleury and he playfully kicked it aside.
"It was just for fun with (Letang)," Fleury said.
Fleury became visibly emotional during the first TV timeout of the first period. The Pens played a tribute video of highlights from throughout his career in Pittsburgh. Fleury fought back the tears…to no avail. The crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name one last time. He tapped his heart with his glove and raised it to the crowd.
"I was happy I had a mask on," Fleury said about his emotions from the video and ovation. "They always do a good job with these (videos). A lot of good memories. A lot of good years. It just brought some fun memories."
Fleury would settle into the game and experience what it's like facing the Pens firepower.
"It's good to play against them," Fleury said. "They're very talented, very fast, and able to create a lot of space and time for themselves to get some goals.
"Sometimes I caught myself thinking a little too much, what they like to do and their tendencies. Hopefully it will get easier to play them as it goes on."
Fleury began the day by receiving his 2017 Stanley Cup championship ring from Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, CEO/President David Morehouse, general manager Jim Rutherford and head coach Mike Sullivan.
"You earned it." Those words were spoken often by the men giving Fleury his bling. It was the culmination of 13 seasons, every record in franchise history and three Stanley Cup championships.
Afterward Fleury dropped into the Penguins locker room to catch up with his old teammates. It's a rarity for an opposing player to be allowed in another team's locker room. But that's how special the Penguins organization and Fleury are. The players, just like the fans, welcomed Fleury with open arms and big smiles.
Fleury may be wearing a Knights' jersey now, but to fans throughout the Pittsburgh area he will always be a Penguin.