Stanley Cup Playoffs: Fleury leads Penguins past Lightning, 3-0

Some of Marc-Andre Fleury's saves in the Penguins' 3-0 victory against Tampa Bay Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center defied reason.

A few defied some basic laws of physics.

But nothing Fleury did while stopping 32 shots in Game 1 of this opening-round playoff series defied belief.

Not among his teammates, anyway.

Fact is, they've pretty much gotten used to efforts like this.

"That's the way he's played now for three months," center Mark Letestu said. "He's consistently excellent. And he was nothing short of awesome tonight."

Lightning coach Guy Boucher, whose corps of gifted forwards rivals any in hockey, didn't argue the point.

"Fleury was outstanding," Boucher said. "There's no question about it. I still can't believe he made some of those saves."

The victory gives the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the series, which resumes at 7:08 Friday night at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins, as expected, were without center Sidney Crosby, who hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion. He spent the evening in management's booth in the press box, wearing headsets that kept him in contact with the bench.

Dressing him for this game wasn't an option because Crosby still hasn't been cleared to take contact.

And had he dressed for Game 1, he likely would have gotten lots of it. Some of it of the bus-speeding-downhill variety.

The off-ice officials registered 79 hits; seismographs at the U.S. Geological Service likely recorded at least a half-dozen of those.

The biggest came about 90 seconds into the game, when Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik crushed Lightning center Steven Stamkos into the boards behind the Penguins' goal line.

"He didn't protect himself too well," Orpik said.

Considering how hard Orpik hit him, Stamkos likely couldn't have protected himself with a full suit of armor.

Although the teams combined for 33 hits in the opening period, the real headliner during those 20 minutes was Fleury, who kept his team in the game with a series of outstanding stops.

"They could have been up two or three if it wasn't for Marc," Orpik said.

At 5:32, Fleury denied Martin St. Louis, the NHL's No. 2 scorer in the regular season, on a Victor Hedman rebound from the left side of the crease. Just over a minute later, he rejected Nate Thompson on an Adam Hall rebound.

Just over 11 minutes in, Fleury managed to get a piece of a shot that changed directions on the way to the net --Lightning center Dominic Moore actually raised his arms, believing the puck had gone into the net -- then thwarted former teammate Ryan Malone on the rebound. With the back of his leg, no less.

"He did the reverse double-leg stack pad save on me," Malone said.

"That was pretty nice, I guess."

Fleury didn't lose his touch between periods, either, because on a Tampa Bay power in the first minute of the second, he made an exceptional stop on Vincent Lecavalier from the left side of the crease.

Lecavalier made a pretty deft move of his own, putting the puck between his own legs before flipping it toward the net, but Fleury was able to stop him with his arm.

The Penguins, though, weren't having any more luck beating Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, who turned aside all 18 shots the Penguins launched at him in the second.

But they finally broke through early in the third, when James Neal fed the puck to Alex Kovalev from the left point.

Kovalev, who had been taken off his feet a few seconds earlier, took the pass at the bottom of the right circle and beat Roloson at 6:05 for what proved to be the winner.

Eighteen seconds later, Arron Asham provided some insurance with a tremendous individual effort and Chris Kunitz gave the Penguins their final margin of victory by hitting an empty net with 41.1 seconds left in regulation.

So the Penguins earned a victory. And Fleury won over any non-believers there might have been in the visiting team's room.

"He's a very athletic goalie," Moore said. "Unbelievable reflexes. He showed it tonight."

Dave Molinari: . First Published April 14, 2011 4:00 AM


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