By Joe Starkey, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Former Penguins goaltender Greg Millen looked perplexed Wednesday morning.
I had just informed Millen, a broadcaster for Hockey Night in Canada, that opinions on current Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury often are divided in this town. I told him fans worry about Fleury even where there is no logical cause.
Like after Fleury’s best regular season.
“I don’t know why anybody would ever worry about this guy,” Millen said. “I mean, he’s one of the best goalies around. Anybody who has won a Stanley Cup is a big-game goalie. For any fan who doesn’t think he’s one of the better goalies in the National Hockey League, they might want to take a look at some of the other ones.”
Fleury proved again last night why his teammates consider him the most valuable player on a club that is missing stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He stopped all 14 Tampa Bay shots in the first period and 32 overall, keeping his team afloat until it took over in the second period and pounded out a 3-0 victory to open the playoffs.
“Ever since I joined this team, that’s what he does,” said winger Alexei Kovalev, who snapped a scoreless tie at 6:05 of the third period. “That’s why people say a goalie is half a team.”
Fleury’s best stops came early, as his teammates were busy delivery body blow after body blow, designed to weaken the Lightning as the game wore on (and the one Brooks Orpik laid on Steven Stamkos seemed to turn the latter into Little Boy Lost in his playoff debut).
Fleury held strong against some tricky deflections and point-blank second chances. One of those came from ex-Penguins winger Ryan Malone, who watched in disbelief as Fleury stopped a shot with the back of his leg.
Malone’s teammate, Dominic Moore — another ex-Penguin — thought the original shot went in and raised his arms to celebrate.
“Dominic thought he had a goal, and then (Fleury) did the reverse-double-leg-stack pad save on me,” Malone said. “It was pretty nice.”
The reverse-double-leg-stack pad save? That’s as good a description as any, I suppose, for a contortion that defied belief. Fleury actually said with a straight face that he works on saves like that in practice.
He must work on escaping from handcuffs, straitjackets and water tanks, too.
Malone well aware of what his team is up against.
“(Fleury’s) already won a Cup,” Malone said. “We know how good he is. He's not easy to beat.”
Fleury’s best save was yet to come. He made it early in the second, when Vincent Lecavalier, standing to the right of the cage, pushed the puck back between his skates and propelled it toward an empty net.
That is when Fleury’s right arm appeared like a flipper on a pinball machine.
“I was in hot water again,” Fleury said with a smile. “That’s all I had was my arm.”
A bit of luck helped keep the shutout alive late in the third period, when Tampa sniper Martin St. Louis had the puck on his stick — it had ricocheted off a referee — and an open net staring him in the face. But just as St. Louis was about to release, teammate Teddy Purcell inadvertently slammed into him.
Fittingly, the final seconds ticked away with a raucous crowd of 18,390 chanting Fleury’s name. After he was named first star, he tried to do a television interview on the ice. Problem was, all his answers were drowned out by a different chant …
“M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
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