Don't worry about Fleury, he always bounces back

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You'll never guess the game that Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis mentioned Sunday when asked about teammate Marc-Andre Fleury's postseason history.

Game 5 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings.

Maybe Fleury's worst playoff performance.

"You remember what happened after that game, don't you?" Dupuis asked.

Sure do.

After Fleury fished five pucks out of his net in the 5-0 Game 5 loss and was benched in favor of Mathieu Garon in the second period by coach Dan Bylsma, he stopped 25 of 26 shots in Game 6, a 2-1 Penguins win. Then, in the cauldron that was Game 7 in Detroit, Fleury was even better, allowing just one goal on 24 shots as the Penguins won the Cup, 2-1.

"That's what's so good about Marc-Andre," Dupuis said. "He always bounces back."

The Penguins need Fleury to do it again tonight when they play the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of their playoff series. Everyone sort of knew going in that he was the key to the team surviving and advancing. Now, after the first two games, there are no doubts about it.

In Game 1, Fleury was spectacular -- stopping 32 shots -- and the Penguins won, 3-0. In Game 2, he was ordinary -- beaten early and often -- and the Penguins were blown out, 5-1.

His teammates were quick to take Fleury's back after the loss. "You can't put any of it on him" defenseman Paul Martin said. "We left him out to dry a couple of times."

It's true, mistakes by defenseman Kris Letang and Martin led to two two-on-one goals by the Lightning. Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier was left unchecked in front of the net by Letang on the power play, leading to another. A fourth was scored when Martin deflected a shot by Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis off Fleury and into the net.

But Fleury knew the truth.

"I was hoping to do better than I did," he said. "I have to if we want to keep winning."

Tampa Bay scored on its first shot just 2:02 in when defenseman Eric Brewer beat Fleury with an unscreened wrist shot. That can't happen even if it was a great shot. "The quick goal right from the start seemed to give them legs," Fleury said. "It's tough when your team is behind the eight ball that quickly and has to play catch-up."

The fourth goal -- by St. Louis on the power play -- also can't happen. St. Louis threw the puck at the net from a bad angle and, though the shot deflected off Martin's stick, it still beat Fleury to the short side. That's inexcusable for a goaltender.

"I wasn't happy, for sure," Fleury said. "You lose in the playoffs at home, it's always tough ...

"But experience helps. When I first came up, every loss ... I worried a lot about it. I know the series is only 1-1 now. You can't panic. That's why I just try to come back the next day, put a smile on my face and go back to work."

Of course, Fleury then smiled.

"I'm going to do my best," he said. "You always want to win. But as long as you give everything you've got, you can't worry about what happens."

It's a good thing Fleury has figured out how to cope with pressure. He might play the rest of his career and not face as much as he did in those Games 6 and 7 against the Red Wings in '09. He was spectacular under the brightest, hottest lights in his sport.

But the pressure is enormous on Fleury again in this series. He tried to shrug it off, saying, "You win and lose as a team. I don't have to do it all by myself. I don't score goals." But he knows he has very little room for error. These Penguins, without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, aren't built to get many goals or to come from behind. That's why after Lecavalier scored his goal at 6:53 of the first period to push Tampa Bay's lead to 2-0, it felt as if the game were over.

It will be important tonight for the Penguins to get the first goal. It always is in playoff hockey. But it's just as important that Fleury doesn't get beat early. Brewer's goal in Game 2 was a killer.

Fleury didn't have a good postseason run last spring because he allowed too many early goals. Ottawa scored against him 18 seconds into Game 2 and 5:19 into Game 6. The Penguins were fortunate to win both. But they weren't so lucky against Montreal in the second round. The Canadiens scored 4:30 into Game 1, 2:34 into Game 4, 1:13 into Game 6 and just 32 seconds into Game 7. The Penguins lost those final three games.

If Game 5 of the Detroit series in '09 wasn't Fleury's worst, Game 7 against Montreal was. He allowed four goals on 13 shots and was pulled by Bylsma in favor of Brent Johnson at 5:14 of the second period. The Penguins lost, 5-2.

Fleury didn't get a chance to bounce back from that game.

He will have his chance tonight.

"I'm 100 percent sure he'll play a really strong game," Dupuis said. "That's the kind of goalie he is."

It's worth repeating.

He always bounces back.



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