Behind goaltender Fleury, Penguins snap two-game losing skid
Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Paul Martin were out. James Neal joined them in the trainer's room. Evgeni Malkin simply isn't himself right now.
So the Penguins' brightest remaining star essentially won a game on his own.
The Penguins were outplayed much of the evening, but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury put on a show, stopping 34 of 35 shots and blanking the New York Rangers in a shootout for a 2-1 victory Friday at Consol Energy Center.
With the win, the Penguins (29-10-0, 58 points) lead the Atlantic Division by 18 points and the Eastern Conference by five points with nine games remaining.
The Penguins won four of five games between the teams, who began Friday as the Nos. 1 and 8 seeds in the playoffs.
For the third time in four games at Consol Energy Center dating to last season, the Rangers were held to one or fewer goals.
“It was one of Flower's best games of the year,” center Brandon Sutter said. “And we needed it. I thought we were better tonight than our past couple of games, but really, we weren't great. But Flower was there for us all night.”
Numerous sequences highlighted Fleury's performance.
In the second period, with the Rangers buzzing, Fleury lost his glove.
“I thought maybe he (the referee) was going to blow his (whistle),” Fleury said. “But it kept going.”
And so did Fleury.
Fleury stood in the net bare-handed while the Rangers set up a shot from the slot. Center Derek Stepan fired a shot toward Fleury's hand, but the Penguins were able to block it.
“I just wanted to get in front of it,” Fleury said.
Getting in front of the Rangers' shots was little problem for Fleury or the Penguins, who blocked 20 shots.
Fleury looked sharp even in the early going, robbing Rangers star Rick Nash with a right pad save.
In the third period, even though Fleury allowed Nash's game-tying goal, he kept the Penguins in the contest by making “a lot of key saves, wow!” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
Forward Jussi Jokinen, the newest Penguin, scored early in the period to give the Penguins a lead, but the Rangers took control after that.
“I thought the first two periods were even,” Penguins right wing Craig Adams said. “But the Rangers definitely controlled the third period. That's where Flower had to be so huge.”
Fleury made three saves in the third period that brought the Consol Energy Center crowd to its feet for extended ovations. His best came late in the third when nearly his entire body slid into the net while trying to stop center Mats Zuccarello's shot. However, Fleury was somehow able to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.
“I just tried to get under the post quickly,” Fleury said. “It was under me, and I wasn't sure where it was. My back was in the net so I just tried to hide the puck.”
In the moments that followed, Fleury stopped a breakaway, two odd-man rushes in overtime and made a number of other splendid saves against a Rangers team that enjoyed a significant edge in quality scoring chances.
“I don't think you can say enough about what Marc-Andre Fleury did tonight,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
In what has almost become expected, Fleury was the difference in the shootout.
He stoned Rangers snipers Nash, Zuccarello and Ryan Callahan during the shootout.
Jokinen, a 45 percent shootout performer in his career, easily beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to begin the shootout.
But this was Fleury's night.
“He was phenomenal,” defenseman Mark Eaton said.
Fleury's performance earned the Penguins a rare two-day break from practice.
“He got us those two points,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said.