MONTREAL -- Turns out there are two pretty good goaltenders in the Penguins-Montreal Canadiens playoff series after all.
Marc-Andre Fleury showed up here Tuesday night at his hometown Bell Centre, made his presence felt in a big way and stole the show from Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak, not to mention a 2-0 win in Game 3.
Please tell me you aren't surprised.
"He's a gamer," Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche marveled afterward. "He wins games."
Is there a better compliment for any athlete?
Fleury did to the Canadiens what he always seems to do at playoff time. He made the huge saves when the Penguins needed them most. A year ago, their run to the Stanley Cup was highlighted by one big stop he made in each series. The toe save on Philadelphia's Jeff Carter in Game 2. The save to rob Washington's Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway in Game 7. The sprawling stop to deny Carolina's Eric Staal in Game 1. The final save on Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom as the clock ticked toward 0.00 to secure the championship in Game 7.
Well, if the Penguins go on to make it two Cups in a row this summer, they long will remember the save Fleury made against winger Tomas Plekanec on a Canadiens power play with fewer than four minutes left and the Penguins struggling to protect a 1-0 lead.
Actually, Fleury had made another pretty sweet stop a little more than four minutes earlier when he swooped across his crease to say no to a one-timer by Canadiens forward Mike Cammalleri, who had burned him for three goals in the first two games. But it was his save on the Plekanec redirect that made all the sports highlight shows overnight.
"He hadn't stolen a game for us yet in the playoffs," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "He might have done that tonight."
No mights about it.
"We needed a big game in a lot of ways -- and there he was," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
They needed it because Halak had played so fabulously in the Canadiens' 3-1 win in Game 2 Sunday at Mellon Arena, making 38 saves. He was really good again Tuesday night but couldn't stop Evgeni Malkin's wicked one-timer on the power play early in the third period. Clearly, he is Montreal's best chance to win the series, just as he was in the first round when he beat the powerful Washington Capitals in Games 5, 6 and 7 by stopping 131 of 134 shots.
Fleury didn't face nearly that much rubber Tuesday night, thanks to some terrific defensive work by his teammates in front of him and some impressive shot-blocking by Orpik (7 blocks) and defenseman Jordan Leopold (6). The offensively challenged Canadiens had just 18 shots on net.
"That's why I thought this was one of the tougher games he had to play," Meloche said. "They didn't have a shot for 9 minutes in the third period. Then, all of a sudden, he had to make those two great saves. He kept his focus. You could tell his concentration was right on tonight."
The shutout was just Fleury's second of the season, the other coming in Boston March 18. That one came in the emotionally charged atmosphere of teammate Matt Cooke's appearance in Boston only 11 days after his blindside hit leveled the Bruins' Marc Savard.
The crowd was amped Tuesday night for a different reason. Thanks to Halak, they have started to believe here that the Canadiens, who barely made the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, can go much deeper in these playoffs. Fleury might be one of their own -- a French-Canadian -- but he stands in their way. They fairly bellowed "Fleu-reee!" through much of the game only to leave the arena with nothing more than sore throats.
Imagine Fleury's satisfaction after pitching the shutout.
"This means a lot," said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, another Montreal native. "To do it in front of all those people yelling his name and trying to get him off his game. That's the one thing about Flower. He's always going to be focused."
The game had to be meaningful to Fleury for another reason, as well. When the Penguins lose, he usually takes most of the blame. If you had a nickel for each time somebody said he was the reason the Penguins lost Game 2 to the Canadiens, you would be fairly wealthy.
"That criticism never comes from in here," Orpik said.
Added Meloche, "Our players really believe in him."
For good reason.
For good reason
Ron Cook: email@example.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.