Shame, shame on those who booed Fleury

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There are days I can't help but feel embarrassed for Pittsburgh sports fans.

This is one.

Not all of the fans, of course.

Those at Mellon Arena who gave Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury a mock cheer Friday night for stopping a puck early in the 2-1 Game 2 win against the Ottawa Senators.

You know who you are.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

"It probably was people who don't normally come to the games," Penguins winger Max Talbot was theorizing Saturday after the team's optional practice, not long before the fellas boarded an airplane for Ottawa and Game 3 tonight with their playoff series tied, 1-1. "Maybe some had too much to drink. Or they were probably people who didn't even wear white to the game."

Sorry, there are no excuses for those who jeered Fleury.

They are fools.

Not for being upset that Fleury gave up a soft goal to the Senators' Peter Regin just 18 seconds into Game 2 on the first shot he faced. Not for being disappointed that he played poorly in the Penguins' 5-4 loss in Game 1. Not for being concerned that he was inconsistent for much of the season.

Fleury is a fair target for criticism for all of those things.

But he didn't deserve that mock cheer seconds after Regin's goal when he stopped a routine shot by the Senators' Nick Foligno.

Not in his home building.

Not after he has been such a clutch playoff goalie for a very long time.

Not after he meant so much to the Penguins last season when they won the Stanley Cup and the year before when they went to the Cup final.

Here's hoping Versus wasn't able to pick up the mock cheer on its national telecast. Pittsburgh looks awfully bad today if it did.

"I didn't care much for it," Penguins winger Mike Rupp said, speaking for all his teammates, who, it is fair to say, were annoyed with Fleury's treatment.

Fleury wasn't available for comment Saturday. If he had been, he surely would have given that goofy grin of his and shrugged it all off. He has been around long enough to know that the goaltender always is going to be the guy who is blamed when the other team scores, no matter whose fault it really is.

But the mock cheer had to sting.

It would sting anybody.

The good news is Fleury is mentally strong enough to deal with it. He has proved many times he can handle just about anything. A mock cheer. A bad goal. A bad game ...

Fleury showed that mental toughness again Friday night. He stopped all 19 of the Senators' shots after Regin's goal and the awful disrespect from the crowd that followed.

A superb defensive game by his teammates helped Fleury. It couldn't have come at a better time. Many of Fleury's mediocre statistics this season can be blamed on defensive breakdowns. The Penguins aren't as strong defensively as they were last season when they had the shutdown defensive pair of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill. They need to execute their techniques almost perfectly to make another run at the Cup.

"If we keep playing in front of [Fleury] like we did last night, we'll win a lot of games," Talbot said. "We forechecked so well that they never could get their forecheck going."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby made the defensive play of the night, saving Fleury with 9:15 left to go in a 1-1 game when he dived to knock away a puck that had leaked through Fleury and was headed toward the net after a shot by Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov. But just about everybody played well. Fleury's only really tough play came when Senators center Jason Spezza got behind defenseman Sergei Gonchar with seven minutes to go -- the score still was, 1-1, and tried to catch up to a long pass for a breakaway. Fleury gambled he could get to the puck first and was able to poke it away before Spezza could get to it.

Fleury admitted later that he was nervous in that split second after he made the decision to leave his net and race for the puck. Who knows how ugly the scene in the Arena would have been if Spezza had scored into an open net?

"The bottom line is he allowed one goal," Rupp said of Fleury. "You might not like that one goal, but that's all they got against him."

Clearly, the Penguins weren't surprised Fleury played well after he fished five pucks out of his net in Game 1, three after relatively weak goals. "It was like after Game 5 in the [Cup] final last season," Talbot said. "He gave up five goals [to Detroit] that night, but we knew he was going to be phenomenal in Game 6. And he was."

A 2-1 win.

Fleury was phenomenal against the Red Wings in Game 7, as well.

Another 2-1 win.

Now, Fleury must do it again in Game 3 in Ottawa.

He must keep doing it.

"Every single guy in this room wants to go to battle with him," Rupp said. "I look around the league at the other goaltenders. I wouldn't pick any other guy."

No wonder Fleury can let that mock cheer go. Why should he care about a few fools in the stands when he has that kind of support from the only people who really matter?




Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.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.


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