Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was chosen as the Penguins' most valuable player this season, and rightly so.
He was the primary reason they made a serious run at first place in the Eastern Conference, and why they finished with the second-highest point total in franchise history despite losing 350 man-games to injury.
For that matter, his play has been one of the major factors in the 3-1 lead the Penguins will take into Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay at 12:08 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center.
But exceptional as Fleury's play in 2010-11 was -- aside from a miserable first month, anyway -- it wasn't enough to earn a place among the finalists for the Vezina Trophy, as selected by the league's general managers.
That distinction goes to Boston's Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo of Vancouver and Nashville's Pekka Rinne.
Fleury learned from a reporter that he had been overlooked when he came off the ice after the practice Friday at Southpointe.
And, while his initial reaction seemed to be one of genuine disappointment, his words did not let it show.
"It doesn't bother me that much," he said. "I'm sure it would have been a great honor, but I wasn't playing this season to win the Vezina.
"I was playing to try to give the team a chance to make the playoffs, try to stay on top of the standings, to try to reach first place. The Vezina wasn't in my mind that much."
Fleury tied for sixth place with 36 wins and finished ninth with a 2.32 goals-against average.
Center Max Talbot described Fleury as "definitely one of the best, if not the best, goaltenders in the league," but agreed that being honored as the league's top goalie wasn't Fleury's main objective this season.
"If you gave [Fleury] the choice between winning the Vezina and the Hart, or winning the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup, we'd all choose the Cup," Talbot said.
Penguins winger Chris Kunitz will be in a more familiar and much more comfortable place today -- back on the ice with his teammates.
He spent Game 4, a 3-2 Penguins win in double overtime, watching because he was serving a one-game suspension for elbowing Tampa Bay's Simon Gagne in the head the previous game.
"It was a tough game to watch, the emotions," Kunitz said. "It's great that our team could pull it off in overtime, but we know we've got to win one more to win the series.
"I know I put myself in a bad situation, put my team in a bad situation. That's something I don't want to do. But it's a learning experience to get a chance to watch."
Kunitz was back in his regular spot, on the left wing with center Jordan Staal and right winger Tyler Kennedy, at practice, and coach Dan Bylsma confirmed Kunitz would be back in the lineup now that his suspension has been served.
Lightning winger Steve Downie was in the same situation as Kunitz -- he sat out Game 4 on a one-game suspension after leaving his feet to level Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy in Game 3.
"It's tough watching the last game, double overtime," Downie said. "Every shot was tough to take in, but it was what it was. I'll bring the emotion [today]".
Boston defenseman Andrew Ference, a former Penguin, was fined $2,500 by the NHL for an "obscene gesture" he made after scoring a goal in the Bruins' 5-4 overtime victory Thursday nigh in Montreal.
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, who knows Ference from a training camp or two when Ference played with the Penguins, agreed that the gesture was out of character, but noted that such an action isn't appropriate.
"It's definitely not the right thing to do," he said, before adding that "it's kind of a little bit funny."
Although Orpik has taken serious abuse in road rinks a number of times -- he still is jeered every time he touches the puck in Carolina because of a hit from behind on Hurricanes forward Erik Cole a few years ago -- he said he hasn't been tempted to express himself the way Ference did, accidentally or otherwise.
"Not to that extreme," Orpik said. "Maybe there are times when you want to voice or show your frustration, but there are different ways of doing it. Probably more classy, smarter ways of doing it."
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721 Dave Molinari: email@example.com .