Gorman: Penguins' Fleury gets the feels, steals the series
Marc-Andre Fleury still gets goose bumps and feels butterflies when Penguins fans chant his name, and the goaltender gave them reason to roar.
Fleury stopped a postseason career-high 49 shots as the Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-2, in Game 5 on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena to clinch their first-round series.
It was Fleury's 57th career postseason victory, passing Tom Barrasso for the franchise record.
"To be at home, in front of our fans and to be able to get that win with the support that they gave me throughout the season and all these years," Fleury said, "I was happy I was able to contribute and get that win."
It was a storybook series for Fleury, who lost his starting job to a concussion last spring and watched the majority of the Penguins' run to their fourth Stanley Cup championship from the bench.
A last-minute replacement for Matt Murray, injured in warm-ups before Game 1, Fleury proved to be the difference in outdueling Blue Jackets star Sergei Bobrovsky.
"We all as teammates felt bad to not see him in the net every night. The situation is what it is, and Flower's a No. 1 goalie in this league," Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley said. "We're fortunate that we have two No. 1 goalies. It's paying off right now."
Where Columbus coach John Tortorella called Bobrovsky the Blue Jackets' "backbone" and suggested they wouldn't "have a sniff" without him, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan credited Fleury for being "solid" and giving them a chance to win each and every game.
"And that's all you can ask of a goaltender," Sullivan said.
The Penguins couldn't have asked for much more from Fleury in the first period. Columbus furiously attacked the net for the first five minutes, and Fleury stopped everything the Blue Jackets threw at him. When he couldn't, the Penguins' defense came to his rescue.
"They threw a lot of pucks at the net and always had somebody around trying to poke it, trying to get it in," Fleury said. "I love the way our guys played in front of me, the way they helped me. They made some saves for me."
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It started with Columbus winger Josh Anderson's rebound floating behind Fleury before defenseman Olli Maatta knocked it out of mid-air. That was followed by Boone Jenner's point-blank shot from the slot off Fleury's shoulder, then glove saves on Matt Calvert's wrister and Alexander Wennberg's slap shot. Columbus had fired nine shots on goal by the time Penguins winger Phil Kessel scored.
Soon, the Penguins had a 3-0 lead. But the Blue Jackets continued their assault and cut it to 3-2 on goals by William Karlsson and Jenner in the second period. Fleury stopped 19 shots in the third.
"He was under pressure throughout the whole night," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "He had to make a ton of huge saves. They weren't necessarily routine, either. He was tested a lot. We don't like to have to make him work that hard, but he was our best player."
Columbus was counting on Bobrovsky to be that. After all, he is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. Bobrovsky, however, allowed 21 goals in five games. Fleury, meantime, stopped 181 of 194 shots (a .933 save percentage).
"He played great for us all series," Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said. "He's a world-class goaltender. Enough can't be said about what he does for us. He's loose back there, and he feels those momentum swings and comes up big when we need him."
Fleury feels the butterflies, too.
And the goose bumps, giving as many as he gets.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.