Heading into these playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury said he was ready to answer his critics after two disappointing postseason performances. We’d say back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3 against the New York Rangers to give the Penguins a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals is quite a response.
“I’ve won a lot of hockey games with Marc-Andre Fleury in net. (During the) regular season and this team has won a Stanley Cup with him in the net, so I’ve seen him play and win a lot of hockey games,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
“I don’t know when the questions started for Marc, when he was 17, 18, whatever. They’ve been asking him those questions for a long time and he’s done nothing but answer those questions, and that’s what he’s doing with his play and that’s what he’s doing here winning hockey games for us.”
Like most players, Fleury generally doesn’t like to talk about himself. But even he had to admit posting his second straight shutout in a 24-hour span felt pretty darn awesome.
After turning aside all 22 shots he faced in a 3-0 win on Sunday, Fleury followed that up by stopping 35 shots in a 2-0 victory on Monday to record consecutive shutouts for the first time in his postseason career and the first time in Penguins playoff history – going precisely 120 minutes without allowing a goal.
“It’s good. I don’t think I’ve done it in a season very much, or at all,” Fleury joked of his back-to-back blankings, as he has a history of losing shutouts late in games. “Definitely a good feeling, two in two days. It was fun.”
Fleury didn’t have to say too much about himself, though, as his teammates took care of that for him along with the head coach.
“He was great. He’s been our best player all playoffs long,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “To win in the playoffs you need solid goaltending. He’s given us a chance every night.”
“It feels great to see him have success like that,” defenseman Kris Letang added. “He’s been awesome all year, but especially the last few games he’s been our best player.”
Bylsma said there was no question Fleury was actually the best player on the entire ice tonight, as he was just in the zone. Fleury was so positionally sound the entire night, which was key in allowing him to come up with big saves on shots through traffic and screens. He did a tremendous job of controlling his rebounds and making smart decisions with the puck.
“Tried to get out there, tried to get square and tried to find the puck,” he said. “Sometimes it was a little bit of battling around, but it was all right.”
There’s a lot of clichés in this game of hockey, and one the Pens like to use a lot is that “your goalie has to be your best penalty killer.” Fleury certainly was, as Pittsburgh stymied all five of New York’s power play opportunities in the game – including a four-minute double minor assessed to James Neal for drawing blood on a high stick.
“Our penalty kill shut them out tonight but it was mostly because of Marc-Andre in the net,” Bylsma said. “They had a lot of zone time there. They had a lot of chances and they directed a lot of pucks at the net. They whipped pucks there and had some really good scoring chances. He was the best guy on the penalty kill.”
Not only was Fleury making all the saves, but the hockey gods seemed to be on his side tonight as well as he had a bit of fortitious puck luck as the Rangers hit a couple of posts and crossbars. In the second period, Mats Zuccarello desperately whacked at a bouncing puck in the slot that hit the crossbar, deflected down to the goal line and walked across it like a tightrope. The refs blew play dead thinking it had gone in, but an official review determined that it did not.
Fleury graciously thanked his crossbar afterwards, giving it a pat of gratitude and showing it his appreciation.
“Good friends,” Fleury joked of the red painted metal (goalies are a different breed).
Fleury was awarded the “rock” in the locker room after the game, which the Pens give to their player of the game. It's fitting, because he’s been their rock. And it looks like that won’t be changing anytime soon.
“(I'm taking it) one shot at a time, one game at a time," he said. "And my teammates have been playing great in front of me too, so it’s a huge help."