Friendly Fleury shows some flash in playoffs
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As the seconds ticked down in the Penguins' Eastern Conference-clinching win yesterday, a chant began. It was spontaneous at first, then rose in decibel as fans were urged on by a name flashing on the scoreboard.
They weren't serenading Sidney Crosby, the captain and face of the franchise, although he played a tremendous two-way game and had two assists.
Hometowner Ryan Malone wasn't the one singled out at that moment, despite his two goals and an assist.
It wasn't Marian Hossa, who had a goal and three assists, either.
The object of the crowd's affection was, perhaps, the friendliest, most unassuming guy on a team stocked with good-hearted players.
"It's amazing. I got butterflies," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "The fans are extremely nice."
As if the love wasn't deserved.
"I don't think anybody was happier for him than all the guys on our bench," defenseman Brooks Orpik said after the 6-0 win that sent the rival Philadelphia Flyers home and left the Penguins waiting to see whether they will play Detroit or Dallas in the Stanley Cup final.
Fleury was swarmed in front of his net by his teammates following the final horn after he made 21 saves for his third shutout of these playoffs -- one in each round.
Perhaps none of his stops were bigger than two in succession at 3:40 and 3:41 of the second period, when he denied Philadelphia snipers Daniel Briere and Mike Richards with the Penguins holding a 2-0 lead.
They were just the seventh and eighth shots Fleury faced.
In the third period, when the outcome was not in doubt, Fleury slid to his right to make a highlight pad save on Jeff Carter.
"He's got the quickest feet I've ever seen," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Feet that weren't moving so fast for nearly three months, when Fleury -- the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft who was starting to come into his own earlier this season -- missed 28 games as the first of four Penguins victims of a high ankle sprain.
"At first I thought, OK it's bad but it's going to get better," he said. "It took so long before I could do a butterfly and all that stuff. It was just tough not to be able to skate and be with the guys."
It has healed completely now, said Fleury, 23, who is 12-2 in the postseason. He is second among playoff goaltenders in goals-against average (1.70) and save percentage (.938).
He is nearly unbeatable at Mellon Arena, where he is 8-0 in the playoffs. Asked if he remembered the previous time he lost a start at home, Fleury thought for a second.
"When was it?" he said.
Told it was Nov. 21, a 2-1 loss to New Jersey, Fleury didn't seem to want to believe it. That was 18 wins and nearly six months ago.
Of course, there was that time off sandwiched in there.
"Something that hasn't been talked about enough is that he had such a long layoff with a really bad injury, especially as a goalie," Orpik said. Backup goaltender Ty Conklin "was huge for us, but I don't think anyone expected Fleury to bounce back the way he has from that injury."
There is little doubt about Fleury's health or ability now.
"Every game he's been really, really solid," forward Max Talbot said. "I can't remember a weak goal on him.
"He didn't have that many shots [last night], but he had some huge saves, and he made them. He's been focused. He's been strong. He's been having fun in there."
Fleury's mother, sister, aunt and girlfriend are in town to help him celebrate, but his thoughts after the game also went out to his father, Andre, who couldn't make the trip because of work.
"He's watching at home," Fleury said. "He's been following me since I was really young, and I think he's really happy to see me now, where I am."
Fleury said while waiting for the start of the final round, he'll keep his relaxing moments pretty tame -- movies, hanging out with his teammates.
They'll be happy to spend time with their always-smiling goaltender, who even has a nice name when translated from his native French.
"This is my Flower," Talbot said. "I love him."
First Published May 19, 2008 12:00 am