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Fleury a bright spot among struggling Penguins in playoffs

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 10:06 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a second-period save on the Blue Jackets' Derek MacKenzie during a first-round Stanley Cup playoff game Saturday, April 19, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a third-period pad save on a Blue Jackets power play during first-round Stanley Cup playoff game Saturday, April 19, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

With all around him crumbling, Marc-Andre Fleury is standing tall.

The Penguins goaltender hasn't extinguished his postseason demons yet, but he has looked more comfortable in the Stanley Cup playoff spotlight than his teammates.

Given how ineffective the Penguins have been for large portions against the Blue Jackets, Fleury's continued strong play might be necessary, starting in Game 3 on Monday night at Nationwide Arena.

“He's our guy,” center Joe Vitale said, dismissing any possibility that Columbus' 4-3 win in double overtime on Saturday was attributable to Fleury.

Then, Vitale repeated himself.

“He's our guy. He's been saving us in these two games. In (Game 1) we could have been down 5-1 if not for him. I can't say enough about how good he has been.”

Fleury entered the postseason having posted a sub-.900 save percentage in each of his past four Stanley Cup playoff endeavors. Following his implosion against the Islanders last season, Fleury's 39 regular-season victories were viewed with skepticism by many.

While seven goals allowed through two playoff games is hardly the ideal number, Fleury has faced an uncommon number of quality scoring opportunities.

“We haven't been good enough in front of him,” Vitale said. “But he's been great.”

Fleury made a spectacular save on Blue Jackets center Cam Atkinson, then produced an even better one on left wing Matt Calvert, robbing him with a reflex-driven right pad save.

Calvert, however, was left unmarked for an extended period and buried his own rebound to send the Blue Jackets back to Ohio with confidence.

“We've had some times when we've really gotten hemmed into our own zone,” right wing Lee Stempniak said. “And he's made some huge saves.”

The Penguins, disgusted with their performance through two games, have been in Fleury's corner all season.

Despite all the problems they have encountered in this series — a sluggish power play, being susceptible to shorthanded goals and taking foolish penalties among them — the Penguins have received the edge in the goaltending battle.

“He held us in there,” center Sidney Crosby said of Fleury's Game 2 outing. “It's tough. You don't want to hang him out to dry there. We made some big mistakes.”

Fleury has stopped 72 of 79 shots this series.

Three of the Blue Jackets' goals have come on the power play, with of them two seeing the Penguins' defense allow a cross-ice feed to penetrate the center of the Penguins' defense, setting up a shooter for a wide-open look.

Columbus also has scored two shorthanded goals. One came from center Derek McKenzie, who beat Fleury on a breakaway. Calvert beat Fleury on a three-on-one for the other.

Fleury has permitted just two even-strength goals in this series.

The man surrounded by so many question marks entering the playoffs appears to be among the most stable contributors on a team that has displayed poor defensive execution and even worse decision making with the puck.

“We have all the confidence in the world in him,” Vitale said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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