Fleury saves day in relief as Pens rally past Sabres
Marc-Andre Fleury has been a starter his entire career. He isn't used to coming into the game with runners on base and pitching from the stretch.
Yet that's what he did Sunday, announcing his candidacy for the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award with authority.
Fleury replaced Matt Murray with the Penguins down three goals at the start of the second period and stopped all 28 shots he faced, helping to engineer an improbable 4-3 comeback victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
The Penguins have won two in a row and four of their last six.
“He's phenomenal,” winger Phil Kessel said. “He made so many big saves for us tonight. He shut the door, and he gave us a chance.”
Fleury, making his first appearance at home since he wasn't moved at last Wednesday's trade deadline, was showered with cheers by the PPG Paints Arena crowd after being named the first star of the game.
He turned back Evander Kane on a breakaway while the Penguins were trying to claw their way back in the middle of the second period and held his ground as the Sabres buzzed around the net looking for the equalizer on a late-game power play.
Of playing a relief role, Fleury said he had time to take a few shots from injured teammate Kris Letang in the locker room before coming into the game cold.
“It's not my favorite, but I guess when you have a bit of time before you get back on the ice, you can move around a little bit more and stretch a little bit,” Fleury said. “It's fine.”
Fleury wasn't the only contributor in the Penguins' comeback. He couldn't have been. It took more than one man to dig the team out of the deep, ugly hole it crawled into in the first period.
Two failed clearing attempts proved particularly disastrous.
About six minutes into the game, a weak Brian Dumoulin backhand clear up the boards led to a Ryan O'Reilly goal. About eight minutes later, Matt Moulson knocked down a clearing lob by Murray to set up a Brian Gionta goal.
“I didn't like anything about the first period,” Sullivan said. “We just weren't ready to play. It's as simple as that.”
In the second period, Evgeni Malkin sparked the first leg of the Penguins comeback.
First, he ignited an end-to-end rush that ended with a puck banking in off the skate of defenseman Justin Schultz, who was driving to the net. Then, he took a pass from Schultz and buried a power-play one-timer from the right circle.
“Geno was buzzing,” Fleury said. “When you see him going like that, you feel confident you can make a comeback in the game.”
In the third period, Conor Sheary was at the center of the completion of the comeback.
With 3:46 left, Sheary took a shot from the left point that deflected off the stick of a Sabres defender and the airborne stick of Jake Guentzel before tumbling behind goalie Anders Nilsson to make it 3-3.
Then, 48 seconds later, Sheary sneaked up the left wing and buried a backdoor pass from Schultz to give the Penguins the lead. Schultz said he almost shot it himself before hearing Sheary yelling to him from across the ice.
Sheary gave all the credit to Schultz, who, with five points in his last two games, is up to 11 goals and 44 points for the season.
“He's on another level,” Sheary said. “I asked him today what his (career high for points in a season) was and he said 33. I think he's surpassed that by a lot now. He's just playing so well, not only offensively but defensively. He's honing in on his defensive skills. He's been huge for us.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.