Joe Starkey: Fleury earns chance to make more memories
April 21, 2017 12:00 AM
Ian Cole congratulates goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets 5-2 Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
Joe Starkey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It’s not really Marc-Andre Fleury’s style, but the way things were going Thursday night, you half-expected him to pull an Andrew McCutchen and shout “This is my spot!” after one of his countless clutch saves.
And you know what? If Fleury had said that, he would have been dead right: It is his spot, or at least it should be, heading into the Penguins’ next series, whether Matt Murray is healthy or not.
Fleury has earned that much. He saved his best for last, stopping 49 shots in a series-clinching, 5-2 victory that vaulted him into first place on the Penguins’ all-time postseason wins list (57) and undoubtedly sent John Tortorella muttering all the way back to Columbus. The Penguins were outshot 51-32.
Where did it rank among Fleury’s favorite home playoff games?
“It’s up there,” he said.
Fleury was probably going to be the story of this series one way or another, considering he wasn’t supposed to play. He wound up outdoing the certain Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, although, to be fair, a lot of people would have outdone Bobrovsky, who delivered all the resistance of a wet paper towel.
Whatever term is furthest opposite of clutch, that’s “Bob” so far in his playoff career. His postseason record dropped to 3-10.
Meanwhile, Game 5 brought out vintage Fleury. I’m talkin’ 2009 Fleury. He was never better than when he did the splits to stop Jack Johnson’s sure-goal rebound attempt near the end of the second period, when Columbus was frantically mounting a comeback. Fleury went full extension with his right leg to stop that one, and the Penguins, like a boxer getting pummeled on the ropes, were afforded time to regroup in the second intermission.
Fleury also weathered an early flurry to start the game and made three critical stops at the beginning of the second period, just before the Penguins scored twice to grab a 3-0 lead.
He stole the game, is what he did.
Truth is, the Penguins really didn’t play all that great for much of the series. Their star power flashed when necessary, and Bryan Rust performed his usual series-clinching heroics with two goals, but Fleury was the headline act. In the Penguins’ three home games, he stopped 120 of 124 Columbus shots.
“When [Murray] went down before Game 1, you got a guy stepping in who’s done it before, great goalie, regardless of what happened in last year’s playoffs,” said defenseman Ron Hainsey.
“I think the guys fed off that. He played great the first 10 minutes in Game 1. We could have been down 2, 3-nothing. We were able to get that game later on, and away we went.
“I don’t want to speak for everybody in here, but I think everybody in here has great confidence that he can be the guy back there, without question.”
It’s a fairy tale at this point, starring a forever-smiling fan favorite called “The Flower.”
And make no mistake, the fans are loving it. On several occasions Thursday, they nearly blew the roof off the place, exploding into perhaps their all-time favorite chant next to “Let’s Go Pens!”:
FLUR-EEE! FLUR-EEE! FLUR-EEE!
Fleury’s relationship with the fans has been mercurial, for sure, but they always seem to come back to loving him.
Sitting at the podium late Thursday, after one of the more memorable games of his career, Fleury spoke of the support through the years and how those chants still move him.
“I still get butterflies and goose bumps,” he said.
Joe Starkey: email@example.com and Twitter @joestarkey1. Joe Starkey can be heard on the “Starkey and Mueller” show weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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