Fleury's theft on Ovechkin sparks Penguins

| Thursday, May 14, 2009

WASHINGTON — With a swipe of his glove, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury sent a message. He wasn't going to let Capitals star Alex Ovechkin beat him, not that early Wednesday night during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal at Verizon Center.

Fleury made a phenomenal save three minutes into the game to spark a 6-2 Penguins' victory. "I think the great play early on, I think it sends a message right away when a goalie makes a great stop like that," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We kind of dodged a bullet."

Fleury hushed the once-rowdy, all-red crowd with the spectacular glove-save three minutes into the first period, which dictated the remainder of the game.

"If Alex had put that in on the breakaway, who knows, it might have been a different story," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.

Standing approximately 15 feet from Fleury, Ovechkin fired his hard-to-stop and nearly impossible-to-see shot. Fleury, though, however he did it, made the instinctive save.

The offense took over and Fleury's nemesis Simeon Varlamov was pulled 2:12 into the second period after Kris Letang's goal put the Penguins ahead, 4-0. By that point, Varlamov faced 18 shots, just three fewer than Fleury saw all night.

The Penguins punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference final for the second consecutive season and as the Capitals' season came to an end despite jumping to a 2-0 lead in this series.

Last night's game was nothing like the rest of this epic showdown. It's hardly fitting that the Penguins had a 5-0 lead in this game. Two-goal leads were hard to come by — in part because of the goaltending duals — in this series that saw all but two games decided by a goal and three sent into overtime.

This game was different, though. This was Fleury's night and the Capitals knew that early. "It's hard to come back from a 4-0 lead against the defending conference champions," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "They are a good team. They know what they're doing. 4-0 after two is tough."

Much of the goaltending fuss this series had surrounded Varlamov, not the guy who was arguably the MVP of the Penguins' first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Varlamov stole a few games this series which was surprising considering the rookie played just six regular-season NHL games before becoming the Capitals' everyday goalie after Game 1 of the first-round series.

Last night, Varlamov's best games of this series proved to be behind him. Fleury, on the other hand, was due for an awe-inspiring performance.

"I tried to make sure I was on top of my game and I did," Fleury said. The Penguins count on Fleury to play big in big games. He didn't disappoint last night. Fleury did give up a late second-period and an early third-period goal, but the Penguins had the game in hand by that point.

The game could have taken a completely different turn, though, had Ovechkin scored on his second shot of the game. "Right from that first save by (Fleury) on Oveckin, I don't know if it woke us up or what, but that let us know he was on board and after that we had a great first period," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

Had Fleury let Ovechkin's shot by him, the Penguins would have been down early on the road. Facing his biggest challenge of the night just three minutes after the opening faceoff, the always-cool, even-tempered Fleury outsmarted the player that's been his biggest nightmare all series.

Ovechkin scored eight goals and recorded 14 points in seven games, but none of those mattered when the buzzer sounded last night.

"The first save, I thought it was the turning point of the game," defenseman Kris Letang said. "I think it rattled Ovechkin pretty good."

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