Penguins' Locker Room: No complaints, just confidence in Fleury's abilities
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The Penguins were sitting on a one-goal lead in a game they had to have. Detroit went to work on Marc-Andre Fleury.
Darren Helm launched the puck at the Penguins' goaltender, then again. Daniel Cleary was up next with two wrist shots. Then Niklas Kronwall with a slap shot.
Fleury stood his ground against the Red Wings' rapid fire.
That was almost midway through the first period in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. Fleury made 18 saves that period, 37 overall in a 4-2 win that left the series tied, 2-2, headed back to Detroit for Game 5 tomorrow night.
After the Red Wings won the first two games at Joe Louis Arena, the momentum has shifted to the Penguins with two wins at home.
So, perhaps, has the sentiment toward Fleury shifted from discontent or uncertainty in some quarters to a belief that he can match Detroit veteran goaltender Chris Osgood in this final rematch.
His teammates don't buy the theory that Fleury -- who gave up three goals in each of the first two games, then two each in the past two games at home -- is somehow a weak spot for the Penguins.
"I don't think the criticism was deserved," forward Max Talbot said. "Even the first two games, he got a couple bad bounces, but I remember at times he kept us in the games.
"Like I've said a million times: I wouldn't go to war with any other goalie but him. He's strong out there, keeping us in the game, and he's having fun. That's what [Fleury] is about."
As deftly as Fleury brushed aside those five quick shots in the first period, he deflected the sometimes heated discussion over his play that seems to ebb and flow with a bad or good stretch of games.
"I play for my team. I play for my teammates," he said. "What people say about me, it doesn't matter. The most important thing is to forget about games as soon as possible and start over again the next time."
The next time comes tomorrow at Joe Louis Arena, where he has not had the best results in the playoffs.
Last year, Game 1 started ominously for him when he tripped stepping onto the ice. He was able to laugh that off, but the Penguins got shut out by the Red Wings in the first two games, and Detroit eventually won the Stanley Cup in six games.
Still, he has pulled even with Osgood -- a three-time Cup winner -- and the Red Wings. Fleury has given up 10 goals, Osgood nine goals, with an empty-netter by the Penguins.
At 14-7 this postseason, Fleury -- the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft -- has twice as many wins as losses. In his career, he is 29-17 in the playoffs, 28-13 over the past two years. He has won six of his eight career playoff series and six of his past seven.
Last night, Fleury gave up a tying goal to Helm at 18:19 of the first period and a go-ahead goal to Brad Stuart 46 seconds into the second period on a shot from the right point that was screened by Penguins winger Bill Guerin.
"Billy just went to stop the puck. A little bit of a screen, but it's no big deal," Fleury said with a big grin, letting Guerin off the hook just as his teammates did in the first two games when Fleury gave up two goals after odd bounces off the boards and a fairly soft goal.
"He's been great all series," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "A couple of fluky goals. I don't think you can fault him."
The Penguins came back with three goals over the balance of the second period to stake Fleury to a lead the Red Wings could not overcome.
"These last couple games at home have been desperation games," center Sidney Crosby said. "You need your goaltender to be at his best and he has provided that for us.
"We want to make sure we make life on him as easy as possible. We don't always do that."
Fleury doesn't complain. He just smiles. "It was great to see the character in the room," he said.
That extends to Fleury, coach Dan Bylsma said.
"There's a lot of questions from a distance, and I've always seen the questions from the media," Bylsma said. "But his record and the times when he stood up for his team both at the end of the season and the playoffs is pretty significant.
"Our room is confident in him."
First Published June 5, 2009 12:57 am