Starkey: Can Fleury steal the Cup?

| Monday, June 8, 2009

Marc-Andre Fleury isn't the reason the Penguins have fallen behind again in this Stanley Cup Final.

He'll have to be the reason if they come back to win it.

He isn't the problem, but he could be the solution.

Let's agree on this: The Detroit Red Wings are the deeper and more talented team, particularly now that star forward Pavel Datsyuk is back.

On their worst day, the Wings direct 69 shots at the other team's net, which is precisely what they did in a Game 4 loss (39 on goal, 15 blocked, 15 wide).

At their best, as in Game 5, they are ridiculous — a sublime blend of speed, toughness, offense, defense, discipline and goaltending.

Here's how deep they are: The likes of Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Marian Hossa practically render powerful winger Johan Franzen to afterthought status.

Franzen would be a 60-goal scorer with the Penguins.

So yes, Detroit is the better team — but the better team doesn't always win, once a series is stretched near its limit.

This is where Fleury comes in (back in, rather, after a mercy pulling in Game 5). As the equivalent of a starting pitcher or a quarterback, he can have a more profound affect on the rest of this series than any of his teammates, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who undoubtedly will come back strong after combining for just two shots in Game 5.

Fleury has the power to win games. We know the Wings will be storming the Penguins' net at times in Game 6, and, if necessary, Game 7. The Penguins need Fleury to be Josh Beckett against the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series — the guy who evens the talent disparity by virtue of his singular brilliance (Beckett led the Florida Marlins past the mighty Yankees, pitching a complete-game shutout on three days rest in Game 6).

Fleury's teammates strongly believe in him, and for good reason. Though only 24, he has won a lot of big games.

"I've been playing with 'Flower' for five or six years now," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I have complete confidence he'll bounce back and be himself."

Asked if he'd said anything to Fleury after Saturday's game, veteran winger Bill Guerin said, "No. He'll get by it. He's a big boy. He knows what he has to do. I mean, what are you going to say to a guy, you know• Everybody's a professional in here. You don't have to coddle guys and babysit guys.

"You let them deal with situations on their own, and they'll be OK."

Fleury, for his part, said he can't wait for Tuesday. He might be the most pleasant, easygoing athlete you'll meet, but his personality belies the ferocious competitor within.

"I'm looking forward to being back in net," he said. "It'll be good to be back home. Just forget about this and move on. Be ready for the next one."

Normally not one to react negatively to questions, Fleury rolled his eyes and shook his head when a reporter asked him to appraise his performance after Game 5.

"Well, obviously we lost, 5-0," he said, "so I can't be happy."

Fleury wasn't to blame, even though he gave up five goals on 21 shots; it was a team-wide meltdown.

He was not the reason they lost it.

He'll have to be the reason they win it.

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