Fleury answers bell as Penguins advance



COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Here are the numbers:

A 2.81 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage, no shutouts.

Now, look past those numbers.

Look at this instead: 4-2.

That's the record Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had in a first-round playoff series win that culminated in a 4-3 victory Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 at Nationwide Arena -- the first postseason series win for the Penguins with Fleury in net all the way through since a six-game win against Ottawa in the first round in 2010.

"He's been really good," defenseman Matt Niskanen said of Fleury. "I mean, he's been really good. What a series.

"Could he have made more saves? Sure, he could have. But a lot more could have gone in, too, in these stretches where we were back on our heels."

Such as the third period in Game 6. The Penguins started that period with a 4-0 lead and the possibility of Fleury earning a shutout.

In the end, they were hanging on by their fingernails -- or at least by Fleury's ability to make enough saves.

"It's a good test," Fleury said. "Being able to stay calm, stay focused. I think I was. I think I made a few good saves in there."

After Columbus scored its third goal in a span of 4:52 in the third period to close to 4-3, the fans at Nationwide Arena jeered, "Fleur-y."

The Blue Jackets didn't get another shot past Fleury.

And now, perhaps, Fleury won't be facing as many shots off the ice. Although he won 39 games this season, the sixth time he has had 35 or more in the regular season, his playoff form has been analyzed and questioned since he helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009.

"People kept asking questions," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Was every goal [in this series] perfect? Was he perfect? No ... but he answered the bell with his play."

And did it with no signs of a crisis of confidence.

"He seemed really, really sharp," Niskanen said. "Nothing fazed him, he didn't panic, nothing. He looked like he was tracking the puck really well. He looked really confident."

In Game 1, the Blue Jackets scored first and took a 3-1 lead before the Penguins came back to win, 4-3.

"That first game was big," Fleury said. "I wanted to go in there and just win and just do well. I tried to stay relaxed, stay calm, not try to go for the big saves. Just wait for the pucks to come to me.

"I'm happy how the series went."

Fleury had a moment -- a couple of them -- that might have made fans suck in their breath late in Game 4, a 4-3 Blue Jackets win.

On Brandon Dubinsky's tying goal in the final minute of regulation, Fleury went behind his net to play the puck, only to have it bounce over his stick blade. Then Nick Foligno scored on a relatively long-range, unscreened shot to win it in overtime.

Fleury didn't pout or wilt. In fact, after politely answered a series of questions about the behind-the-net play after the next practice, he firmly said, "No more, please."

That could just as well be his answer to those who have been critical, or at least ill at ease, about Fleury's playoff performance.

A year ago, Fleury opened the playoffs with a 26-save shutout against the New York Islanders, but he was replaced by Tomas Vokoun after going 2-2 in that first-round series and made just one other appearance that postseason as the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference final.

Vokoun is with the club but hasn't played this season after dealing with a blood clot during training camp. Jeff Zatkoff backed up Fleury during the regular season. He has no NHL playoff experience.

That made the backup goaltending situation going into the playoffs a concern in some quarters, but Fleury seemed to render those questions moot.


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.

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