Fleury stumbles, literally, in opener
Detroit's Kris Draper crashes the net on Marc-Andre Fleury as the puck caroms off the crossbar last night.
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DETROIT -- If you had told me yesterday that Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury would fall flat on his face last night, I wouldn't have believed you.
But it happened.
So eager was Fleury to get on the Joe Louis Arena ice for the start of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings that he missed the last step leading out of the runway from the dressing room and went down in a heap for all in the big, hooting crowd to see. At that point, it was really easy to think bad omen for your favorite hockey club, but those in the Penguins' dressing room -- some of the most superstitious people in the world -- denied that vehemently after the game, a 4-0 loss. They were just glad Fleury didn't break his arm.
As it was, only the man's pride was bruised.
Fleury would ache much more after what happened in the next 21/2 hours.
After doing more perhaps than any of the Penguins -- including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- to get the team to hockey's biggest stage, he picked a rotten time to have his worst game of the playoffs.
That's not harsh.
That's just a reflection of how brilliantly Fleury has played throughout the postseason.
This loss wasn't all about Fleury. He was due -- long overdue -- for an off night, but his teammates did nothing to bail him out. They still could be playing and probably wouldn't have a goal, so suffocating was the Detroit defense and goaltender Chris Osgood.
"This wasn't about [Fleury], it was about us," Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said. "We didn't play well in front of him. We left him alone out there."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien seconded that assessment.
"Definitely that was the worst performance of the playoffs," he said. "We didn't compete like we were supposed to compete."
It's true, oh, it's true.
But so is this: Fleury wasn't as sharp as he has been. Each of Detroit's first two goals -- both by winger Mikael Samuelsson -- were on the soft side. Samuelsson beat Fleury for a wraparound goal in the second period after a bad Penguins' line change when Fleury appeared to stumble in his crease, then put the game out of reach early in the third period by pouncing on Fleury's failed clearing attempt and snapping a wrist shot by him. Malkin, who was next to invisible all night, had a chance to get the puck out of the Penguins' end on that second goal but failed, leaving Samuelsson with an easy shot.
Late goals by Dan Cleary and Henrik Zetterberg merely rubbed Fleury's and the Penguins' noses in it.
The score could have been much worse. An apparent goal by Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was disallowed in the first period on a questionable call when teammate Tomas Holmstrom was penalized for interfering with Fleury. Then, in the second period, Fleury failed to control a rebound off a slapshot by Dallas Drake allowing Detroit teammate Kris Draper to have a beauty of a scoring chance. Draper's shot clanged first off the left post behind Fleury, then off the right post.
It really was a bad night all the way around.
As expected, all concerned downplayed that omen business.
"I'm not worried about it at all," said Penguins center Max Talbot, who always follows Fleury out of the runway. "We all laughed about it. I was like, 'Oh, my god, he fell.' But he was the first to laugh about it."
The next two times out on the ice, Fleury tiptoed over that last step. So did his teammates.
"All of us almost fell coming on the ice," Dupuis said. "There was something there that gave right before that last step."
I've heard of intentional food-poisoning doing teams in before big games, but runway sabotage?
"I'm telling you, we all almost fell," Dupuis insisted. "I hope they do something about it before the next game."
The arena maintenance people aren't the only ones looking at a lot of work between now and Game 2 here tomorrow night.
The Penguins also have plenty to do.
This sort of performance was to be expected at some point in the playoffs. What matters is how Fleury and the fellows respond. This is the first time since their wondrous run to the Cup final began that they're facing serious adversity. It's one thing to have a 3-0 series lead against the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers and then lose Game 4. It's something much different to lose the opener of the final and be so thoroughly outplayed.
"We'll bounce back," Talbot promised. "We've been through a lot. This group knows how to bounce back after a bad game."
Let me go on record right now as saying Fleury will play much better in Game 2. I'm not so sure about Crosby, Malkin and the rest after watching how effective that Detroit defense was, but Fleury will give the Penguins a better chance to win tomorrow night.
That's assuming he makes it on to the ice safely, of course.
First Published May 25, 2008 12:00 am