Fleury steals a win for Penguins, who grab 3-1 lead in series
Sidney Crosby slides into the net as he gets the puck past Flyers goalie Martin Biron in the second period of Game 4 of a first-round NHL playoff series.
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PHILADELPHIA -- Some folks used to whisper that Marc-Andre Fleury never would be a big-game goalie.
Others practically shouted it.
You don't hear much of that talk anymore -- leading a team to the Stanley Cup final tends to tone down the wild rhetoric -- and there will be even less in the wake of Fleury's 45-save performance during the Penguins' 3-1 victory against Philadelphia in Game 4 of their opening-round playoff series at the Wachovia Center last night.
"He stole that game for us," defenseman Mark Eaton said.
And Eaton might have been understating it.
Fact is, the next time Fleury's in town, the citizenry might take to pelting him relentlessly with crude chants, which seems to be the treatment of choice for those who make the Flyers' fan base particularly miserable.
Of course, it's possible that by the time the Penguins play here again, the game last night will have been forgotten, because it might not happen until next season.
The Penguins have a 3-1 lead in the series and can clinch a berth in Round 2 with a victory in Game 5 at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow at Mellon Arena. Not that they're breaking down tape on potential second-round opponents just yet.
"A lot of times that fourth [victory] can be the most difficult," interim coach Dan Bylsma said. "We have to put the long, skinny pedal on the right down and play the best game we can."
Fleury certainly did that last night, and so frustrated the Flyers that during one sequence about seven minutes into the third period, Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle tried to push Fleury's entire body into the net.
It didn't work, but it probably was easier than sneaking a puck past him would have been.
The only time Philadelphia managed to do that was at 11:44 of the third, when Daniel Carcillo stuck a shot under the crossbar after getting an uncontested chance from the slot.
Mind you, the Flyers had several of those over the course of the game and especially in the final period, when their 19-7 edge in shots didn't begin to reflect how much they dominated play.
"We didn't plan on playing in our own zone in the third period," Penguins center Max Talbot said. "That's not the way you should protect a lead."
Not the method of choice, anyway, but it worked. After not having a lead in regulation at any point in the previous two games, the Penguins went in front during the first half of the middle period and never were overtaken.
Sidney Crosby put them in front to stay at 3:19, just seven seconds after the Penguins killed an interference minor to Matt Cooke.
THIRD PERIOD/8:43: Flyers center Mike Richards fires a slap shot from the top of the slot. It misses the cage and hits off the boards behind the Penguins' net. The puck ricochets to the right of the cage. Daniel Briere is there for the seemingly easy goal, but Fleury is able to fall backward and twists his body around to get a piece of the puck with his left wrist and hugs the puck against the post with his glove and blocker.
Crosby went hard to the net, and Chris Kunitz threw the puck into the crease from the left side. Crosby, who was being hooked from behind by Simon Gagne, went feet-first toward the net and Kunitz's pass struck his stick, then his body, before entering the net.
A video review confirmed that Crosby did not bat the puck into the net with his glove and upheld the on-ice ruling that the goal was valid.
It won't go down as one of Crosby's more picturesque goals, but was a fair reward for the way he attacked the net.
"That's a typical goal where he goes to the net hard and gets his stick on the puck that's in the blue paint," Bylsma said.
Cooke received the second assist on Crosby's goal and picked up another when Tyler Kennedy got what proved to be the winner at 7:41.
Kennedy took a cross-ice pass from Cooke before beating Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron with a backhander from just below the right hash.
The Penguins seemed reasonably in control at that point, but spent most of the final 20 minutes watching the Flyers swarm by, over and around Fleury.
"I was a little busy, I guess," Fleury said, smiling.
Fortunately for the Penguins, he didn't have to expend much energy fishing pucks out of his net.
"If you're going to have success in the playoffs, you need performances like that from your goaltender," Bylsma said. "He certainly gave a memorable one."
First Published April 22, 2009 12:00 am