The flower blooms again.
The Pens will start franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5 tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning at CONSOL Energy Center.
“Lots of things went into the decision,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I’d rather not elaborate on the details of it, but certainly we had lengthy discussions. It’s an important decision for our hockey team. We’re trying to make the best decision that we can, that we think gives our team the best chance to win.”
Fleury saw his first game action in nearly two months when he came in relief of rookie Matt Murray in the third period of Game 4 on Friday night. Fleury, who hadn’t played since March 31 against Nashville, stopped all seven shots he faced.
Fleury, 31, is the team’s all-time leader in regular-season wins with 357 and shutouts with 43. He has 53 postseason wins for Pittsburgh, and led the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009.
“He’s a great teammate,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “He comes to the rink with a smile on his face everyday. He’s got a great attitude and works hard everyday. Those are the type of guys you love having on your team and he’s one of them.”
Murray, 21, has been the breakout star of the postseason. He won his first three career NHL playoff games to eliminate Henrik Lundqvist and the NY Rangers in Round One. He followed that up by besting likely Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby and the Presidents Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.
“Matt’s terrific. He gets it. He’s a mature kid,” Sullivan said. “If and when he’s called upon to go back in the net, he’ll go back in the net. That’s what he does. He comes to the rink every day. He puts his equipment on, and he plays, and that’s one of the things we love about him.”
Regardless of which goalie is in the net, everyone on the roster has helped lead the Pens to the Eastern Conference Final. Even Jeff Zatkoff helped top the Rangers in Game 1 of the First Round series.
“Matt’s played extremely well for this team, as has Marc, and their contributions to this team, both them and Zatkoff included, are a big reason why this team is where we’re at,” Sullivan said. “It’s very difficult to discount any one of their contributions.”
The Pens’ blue line took a huge blow with the loss of Trevor Daley, who will not play for the rest of the postseason with a broken ankle.
“He’s a tough guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “He’s really made our team a better team. He’s a mobile guy, he can move the puck, he’s got real good offensive instincts. He’s a real, solid two-way defenseman. It’s hard to replace those guys, but we’ve done it all year, and we’ll deal with it again.”
Daley suffered the injury while crashing into the end boards during the second period of Game 4.
With Daley out, it looks like Olli Maatta will slot back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for Games 2-4 of the Eastern Conference Final as he skated on a pair with Kris Letang during rushes.
“I’m ready to go,” Maatta said. “It doesn’t matter what happens. You just have to be ready to play every game, that’s my mindset.”
If Maatta does get back in, Sullivan’s message to him is just to keep his game simple, relax, have fun and play.
“Olli's been a big part of this team for a long time,” Sullivan said. “He's been a top-four defenseman for this team all season long. He's done a terrific job for us. And when he keeps his game simple, I think that's when he's at his best.”
Another player who looks likely to re-enter the lineup for Game 5 is Beau Bennett. The winger skated on a line with Sidney Crosby and Patric Hornqvist during rushes, and practiced on the second power-play unit along with Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Nick Bonino and Chris Kunitz.
“In pregame skate I was in the line rushes. So hopefully that’s the case tonight,” Bennett said. “We’ll see what happens. I’m good to go. Now it’s up to the coaches. I feel like I’m in a good spot mentally and physically where I can help the team.”
After missing 42 of 43 games from Dec. 16 to March 20 due to injury, Bennett returned to the lineup on March 24 vs. New Jersey and played eight straight games before sitting out the final two regular-season games – also due to injury. He returned to team practice on April 12 and has been working to get back into form ever since.
“It’s been an ongoing process,” Bennett said. “(The injury has) been nagging me since December, but it’s something with strength and muscle it’ll feel better. That just takes time to put on and time to heal.
“I had some long talks with the trainers about where I was at. I said I wanted to help the team as much as possible if I could. I’ve been working hard in practices, enough so to go out there in a game.”
If Bennett does get back in, it will mark his 2016 postseason debut. While he knows it won’t be easy to shake off that rust – saying he’ll need to make a few plays as quick as possible to get the comfort level back – he was in a similar situation during his rookie season and can draw on that experience.
“My first year we made it to the conference finals as well and I missed those first two games against Boston. I stepped in for Games 3 and 4 and felt comfortable,” he said. “You always want to make an impact and give yourself a chance to help the team. You can only do that if you play.
Sullivan said that if Bennett gets in, he brings a lot of skill.
“He's strong on the puck. He can really shoot it,” Sullivan said. “But he's a guy that has high end offensive skills. So if we choose to go that route, that's one more guy that we can use in that capacity. The fact that he's been out for an extended period of time may take him a little bit of time to get his timing. He'll also be a guy that will play on adrenaline, if and when we put him back in the lineup, because of the nature of playoff hockey. And usually when players come back into the lineup coming off injuries, they're excited to be back, and they play with a lot of energy and a lot of adrenaline.”
Matt Cullen was the only healthy player missing from Pens morning skate. Here's how the lines and D-pairs looked...
Sullivan, on what Daley's loss does on a hockey level: "I told these guys at the start of the playoffs that we're going to need everybody. If we're going to get to our ultimate goal, we're going to need everybody, both in and out of the lineup, in order to accomplish this. So everybody's got to work every day to get their games at the highest level they can possibly keep it so that, when they're tapped on the shoulder, they're ready to help this team win. That's how strongly we feel about this group."
Crosby, on if he’s a Shawn Michaels fan: "Yeah. I liked Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. That was right around the time I was following when he was in his prime. It’s cool that stuff like that develops out of nowhere. That line has been playing great. It’s pretty cool they’ve been able to set something up there."
Hagelin, on if he's a wrestling fan: "No. Growing up in Sweden there wasn’t much wrestling on TV."
Bonino, on the job Matt Murray has done and their netminders in general: "Yeah, he’s done great and ‘Flower’ got us to the playoffs. We’ve said it all along, we’ve got three great goalies and we know whoever’s in there we’re going to get a great game."
Kunitz, on not wanting to lose tonight: "Anytime you get momentum in the series you have to take advantage of it. We did a good job in Games 2 and 3 of rolling into the next game and playing six periods of good hockey. We took a step back and they started playing their game before we got to ours. We did some things right. They were sitting back in the third period last game. We have to go out with the mentality of putting pucks on net and going after those rebounds."
Hornqvist, on what they took away from the third period of Game 4: "A lot. We have to put pucks behind them and get grinding. They play really structured defense and always have five guys in the neutral zone. It’s hard to go through people there. We have to put pucks behind them, get hard on the forecheck and take more pucks to the net, too."