Cook: The Flower refuses to wilt in face of relentless pressure

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At the end Friday night, as the horn sounded and the Penguins had lived to play another day by beating the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup playoff series, Flyers star Claude Giroux cracked his stick over the Penguins net, shattering it into multiple pieces.

It was the most serious damage the Flyers did to the goal all night.

Take a bow, Marc-Andre Fleury.

From the beginning, when the biggest crowd -- 18,628 -- to watch a hockey game at Consol Energy Center wrapped its collective arms around their goaltender and chanted "Fleu-ry! Fleu-ry!" to show its support, to the end, when Giroux lost his cool and got ready to head back to Philadelphia for a Game 6 Sunday that he and his teammates most certainly didn't want to play, Fleury was spectacular. It was hard to believe he was the same guy who had done a lot of the digging to put the Penguins in an 0-3 hole in the series by allowing 17 goals before benched for the third period in the 8-4 loss in Game 3. He stopped 14 shots in the throbbing third period to protect that 3-2 lead.

"We generated a lot of quality chances," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We couldn't get 'em past their goaltender tonight."

"He stood strong," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, happy to agree with Laviolette on the subject of Fleury.

So what was the difference?

Fleury just grinned when asked that question.

"About 30 less goals."

It was easy for Fleury to have a sense of humor after this performance, this season-sustaining win. He benefited from his teammates pumping in goal after goal in the 10-3 win in Game 4 Wednesday night, although he did pitch a shutout in the final two periods.

Clearly, he carried that momentum into Game 5 even though the Flyers continued to score at will with their power play early, getting two more goals to take a 2-1 lead after the first period. That made 11 power-play goals in five games for them.

"Our guys didn't quit," Fleury said. "Everyone was playing hard. They were blocking some shots, taking away the back door ... "

It was a failed Flyers power play that turned out to be huge in the game.

The Flyers' Scott Hartnell drove the Penguins' Tyler Kennedy into the boards with a questionable hit with 12 1/2 minutes left. No penalty was called, at least not until Kennedy turned and whacked Hartnell with his stick, snapping it in the process. Kennedy was sent off for slashing.

During the next two minutes, Fleury saved the game.

Literally.

Fleury started with a big stop of a shot by Jakub Voracek. He turned away a redirect by Danny Briere of a Giroux shot. He came up huge on a Jaromir Jagr shot. He stopped three different whacks at the puck by Briere. All in all, he made seven saves during that power play.

"But we knew they were going to keep coming," Fleury said.

So the Flyers did.

Fleury made one of his more remarkable saves, jumping to avoid being hit in the skates by a pass from behind his net, then quickly landing and squaring up to stop a point-blank shot by Hartnell. "I just reacted, I guess," Fleury said.

If there was anything troubling about this win, it was the undisciplined penalties that the Penguins took. It wasn't just the retaliatory penalty on Kennedy. Evgeni Malkin took two needless penalties that could have turned out the lights on the season on any other night.

Malkin roughed up the Flyers' Brayden Schenn behind the Penguins net after play had been stopped for a faceoff at 15:43 of the first period. That lapse ultimately led to a 5-on-3 goal by Hartnell just 10 seconds after the Penguins' Craig Adams was penalized for slashing Jagr. The goal gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead.

Late in the second period, Malkin took an even worse penalty when he put his shoulder into Sean Couturier's head in the offensive zone. This time, the penalty-kill got the job done, thanks in large part to a nice save by Fleury on a shot from the slot by the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds.

They say a team's goaltender has to be its best penalty-killer. Fleury was on this night. He was their best player, period.

This was what Bylsma had in mind after Game 3 when he boldly stated that Fleury would be the Penguins goaltender in the next four games. It seemed almost comical at the time after Fleury had been so bad. But Fleury will start the third of those four games Sunday. A win in that game would bring the Penguins back home for Game 7 Tuesday night and fulfill Bylsma's prediction.

As it turned out, Bylsma made another late Friday night.

"Marc was at his best tonight. It will be that way in Game 6, as well."

This time, Bylsma came across a lot more believable.

roncook

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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