Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury talks with the media Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Dan Bylsma passed over Marc-Andre Fleury for Tomas Vokoun for most of the Penguins' playoff run, but less than 48 hours after the team was swept in the Eastern Conference final, he backed Fleury in the strongest way.
"Marc-Andre Fleury is our No. 1 goalie," Bylsma said Sunday as players cleaned out their lockers at Consol Energy Center after being swept in four games by the Boston Bruins.
"He's the No. 1 goalie for this franchise, and he will be going forward."
Questions have been swirling around Fleury, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft and the Penguins goaltender when they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Since the championship, Fleury's numbers have been better in the regular season than in the playoffs. He started only the first four games in the 2013 playoffs and appeared in just five. He relieved Vokoun in Game 2 of the Bruins series, but each goaltender gave up three goals in a 6-1 loss, and Bylsma turned back to Vokoun for the final two games.
"Marc-Andre Fleury is a guy who's going to come back to our team [next season] and he's going to be the No. 1 goalie," Bylsma said. "He's going to be our franchise goalie, this franchise's goalie.
"Marc-Andre Fleury is going to go back in net. He's going to take the net. He's going to be the No. 1 goalie. He's going to play great. There's no question about that. And he's going to win a lot of hockey games for this team next season. He'll have that opportunity in the playoffs again when this team gets there."
Fleury, 28, has two more years on a contract that averages $5 million per season. There has been widespread speculation the Penguins might trade him or use an amnesty clause provided in the latest collective bargaining agreement to buy him out.
He wants to stay put.
"I hope so, yeah. Definitely," Fleury said. "I like it [here] a lot. I don't want to go anywhere else. I like the guys in the [locker] room here. I feel like every year we have a chance at [the Stanley Cup]."
He holds no grudges that he fell behind Vokoun for these playoffs.
He said it "was a little disappointing to not play, but it's understandable. [Vokoun] was playing great and gave our team a chance to win every night."
Fleury bounced back from a rough series by him and just about everyone else on the team last year in a first-round playoff exit against Philadelphia. He went 23-8-0 in a regular season truncated by a lockout, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average.
In these playoffs, he opened with a shutout against the New York Islanders but in five appearances was 2-2 with a .883 save percentage and a 3.52 goals-against average.
The Penguins turned to Vokoun, 36, who was acquired from Florida and signed last June to be a strong backup for Fleury and someone who could step in capably if Fleury faltered, particularly in the playoffs.
Vokoun had strong numbers in the playoffs -- a .935 save percentage, a 2.01 goals-against average and one shutout -- but was only 6-5 primarily because the Penguins supported him with only two goals in the four-game Boston series.
"Tomas, I don't think, is in any different boat than he was when he came in here for last season," Bylsma said. "He's a guy who makes our goaltending tandem a very good one. He's going to play games for us, big games for us. He came in and did for us exactly what we signed him for last year.
"Next year, he's not going to get that opportunity [to become the starter] because Marc-Andre Fleury's going to be in net winning hockey games."
Fleury, who spoke with reporters before Bylsma did, said he wasn't sure whether the coaching staff still had confidence in him, although he said he had a good talk with goaltending coach Gilles Meloche.
He said he wasn't looking for a fresh start with another club, nor would he demand the Penguins reinstate him as the No. 1 goaltender.
"No, I don't need to have a number," Fleury said. "I just want to come back, win some games, just try to do my best to help the team win. Hopefully, I can play a lot of games."
Fleury still can't explain why his numbers dipped from a 5-0 shutout win in Game 1 against the Islanders to giving up 15 goals the next three games, two of which were New York wins. But it started to erode his confidence.
"I didn't change anything from Game 1 that was a shutout to Game 2," he said. "I don't think it was a [technique] problem. I think there were a few bad bounces -- hit a skate or something -- that every game it went in. Then it was a four-goal game instead of a two-goal game. It made everything worse.
"Sometimes, you start thinking a little more. You want to win. You want to do well for your team. It's disappointing when there are four at the end of the night that are in your net."