As Rangers center Derek Stepan bore down on Marc-Andre Fleury
late in the second period of Monday’s Game 3, in all alone on a breakaway, the Penguins goaltender decided to make an aggressive play.
Fleury dove for a pokecheck and as he was sliding across the ice, he stacked his pads – and got a piece of Stepan’s shot with one of them. It was an old-school move reminiscent of Dominik Hasek and saved what would have been a backbreaking third goal, keeping the score at 2-0 and his team in the game.
“I can't sit here and tell you that I expected (Fleury) to do what he did, but it was an unbelievable save," Stepan told NHL.com. "I've watched him quite a bit, and he has so much athleticism and that save, I couldn't believe it. I actually thought I got it by him, and he was able to get a pad on it, so it was a great save by him.”
Disbelief is exactly the sentiment Fleury was hoping for from Stepan.
“I’m sure they see tapes and what to do and what not to do, so I just tried to surprise him a little bit and it worked out all right,” Fleury grinned after practice on Tuesday.
That was one of several key stops Fleury produced that evening. Because of him, they were able to make it one-goal game with 6:48 left in the third and nearly send it to overtime despite getting severely outplayed through the first 40-plus minutes.
After pitching a shutout in the regular-season finale to get his team into the playoffs, Fleury has been making those kinds of saves to keep them in the series, which the Rangers lead 2-1 heading into Wednesday’s Game 4 at CONSOL Energy Center. Both of the Pens’ losses were by scores of 2-1.
“He’s been great,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “It’s been a tight series so far, but when the scoring chances have come up, he has come up big for us and you certainly need a good goaltender to do this at this time of the year. We couldn’t ask anything more. “
And it’s not just that Fleury has been coming up with crucial saves – it’s his demeanor while doing so.
“I just like the way he looks so calm in the playoffs series so far,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “There has never been a situation even on a power play or a surge with the crowd in New York where ‘Flower’ looks rattled or out of sorts. He is very calm, very poised.“
Fleury’s coach and teammates pointed out his play in the series is just a continuation of how excellent he was all year long.
Fleury, who turned 30 in November, put together arguably the most consistent regular season of his career and never looked more calm, steady and confident throughout. He was the Penguins’ rock through everything they dealt with, especially down the stretch as the team struggled in front of him, and was named team MVP for his efforts.
“He’s been solid. That’s the way he’s been for a long time,” Crosby said. “I don’t think anybody should be surprised. Or if there was any doubt, I think he’s erased it because there hasn’t been anyone in here that’s had any doubt in their mind that that’s what he’s capable of. That’s what to be expected. You don’t want to expect too much, but it’s hard because he sets the standard pretty high (laughs).”
The importance of Fleury’s rock-solid play cannot be understated. Not only has he been anchoring a blue line that’s missing three top-four defensemen in Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Olli Maatta; Fleury is playing behind an offense that mustered just two goals in each of their two losses in Games 1 and 3.
When it comes to the back end, which features two trade deadline acquisitions in Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole and two players who have made their NHL postseason debuts in this series in Brian Dumoulin and Taylor Chorney, Fleury said communication has been key.
“If we can talk a lot, I think that makes everybody’s job easier,” Fleury said. “So I try to help them out and they help me out too.”
When it comes to the lack of production up top, Fleury said he doesn’t even think about it.
“I don’t have to worry too much about it, I don’t need to score,” Fleury said. “My job doesn’t change. It’s to stop the puck, try to keep them in the game and if we score or not, it remains the same. I have to do the same thing, so that’s fine. I’m sure they’ll find a way.
“I think every shot, every play, is important. Just trying to stay in the moment and make that next stop.”