Kovacevic: Which Fleury? Fuming or fun?

| Saturday, May 4, 2013, 8:13 p.m.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Marc-Andre Fleury was still ticked Saturday, and I honestly wasn't sure what to make of it.

Forget the manufactured smile.

Forget that when media cornered him in the bowels of Nassau Veterans Memorial Why Is This Thing Still Being Used Coliseum, he replied with answers far more sanitized than his immediate surroundings.

Forget that one of those answers was: “I was mad after the last game, but it's a new day. I'm better today.”

If he was, it wasn't by much. The memory of that crazy Kyle Okposo carom off the end boards then off the Flower's derriere, the one that indelibly branded the Penguins' 4-3 loss to the Islanders in Game 2, clearly hadn't been buried. Sure, he was back out in front of the cameras after uncharacteristically ducking out Friday, but the smile wasn't close to its usual goal-crease width, and … well, here, I'll share some of his stuff after that crowd cleared out …

On the Okposo goal: “It's not normal for the puck to come off the boards like that at Consol, so I've just got be ready for it when it does and not put it into my own net.”

Ha ha?

No. That wasn't a joke.

On whether he plays best when having fun: “Yeah, I like to have fun when I play. When they don't score, I'm having a lot of fun.”

Also not a joke.

On whether it's become easier over his career to let go of tough losses: “I think so. I'm definitely better than when I was younger. But it still isn't easy.”

That definitely wasn't a joke.

Flash back to 2003, the year Fleury was drafted. I visited his hometown of Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, and his best friend and old junior teammate Benjamin Cournoyer shared a telling tale: They were 14, and Fleury had just been demoted from one midget level to a lower one. In his first practice with the new group, Fleury was as happy-go-lucky as ever. But when the session ended, Fleury found a spot at the end of the bench, thinking he was alone.

“He was vomiting there, and I was the only one who could see,” as Cournoyer retold it. “We all thought he was fine. But that's how upset he was about getting sent back down. He just didn't want us to know.”

Fleury has matured since then, obviously. No matter how much the past three springs have chipped at the shine of his 2009 Stanley Cup championship, you don't reach the point where you can make that historic sliding stop on Nicklas Lidstrom without having one whale of a foundation.

So, which will it be on this Sunday matinee for Game 3?

Ask me, and this could be quite the crossroads for Fleury, even at this early juncture of playoffs.

Will he be the goaltender who stoned those brilliant Wings or the flopping fish we saw in Philly last spring?

More to the point, will he be the cool, controlled goaltender who stopped 19 of 20 shots in the first period Friday to carry over from his Game 1 shutout, or will he be looking over his shoulder anticipating the next bad bounce?

Let's not forget that the Penguins weren't exactly the Jacques Lemaire Devils in front of Fleury in Game 2. As Brandon Sutter put it Saturday, “All we did was turn the puck over. I don't see how that's on the goalie.”

Which Fleury will Fleury embrace, the one who kept his team in the game or the one who blew it?

Tom Barrasso, his long-ago predecessor and antithesis as a personality in every conceivable way (a blessing for Fleury and all those in his daily company, I might add), used to say this a lot: “It's not the saves you make. It's the goals you give up.”

To some, that might make sense, especially a goaltender who routinely won 6-5 shinny affairs in the go-go '80s. But I don't see it as a match for the effervescent Fleury, and I don't get the sense he does, either.

“I think you take the good and the bad,” Fleury said to the Barrasso theory. “You learn from it and move on.”


And smile after shutouts.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dkovacevic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.

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