Penguins' rally from 2-goal deficit, win over Blue Jackets in Game 3
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Marc-Andre Fleury had the next shot.
That is the difference from last postseason, from the past four postseasons, from the Fleury of failure and the Fleury of right now.
Right now, “Flower is our best player,” Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said Monday after a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Fleury finished with only 17 saves. His save percentage for the best-of-seven series, which the Penguins lead 2-1, is .899. That means Fleury is having a fifth straight postseason of stopping fewer than 90 percent of shots faced.
The numbers lie in this series, center Sidney Crosby said.
Down 2-0 after a Blue Jackets' swarming surge to open their third home playoff game in franchise history, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called a timeout. Columbus had scored on two of three shots, and both goals were off rebounds.
Bylsma said the Penguins, who were being outhit 7-3, “need a reset, and Marc was part of that.”
However, as the Penguins huddled near their bench, defenseman Kris Letang sensed “calm” from Fleury.
“When your coach calls a timeout in a situation like that, you look at your goalie. And when you can't tell the difference if we were up 2-0 or down 2-0, that's a great way to be,” Crosby said.
“If you had looked into his eyes, you could tell he knew there was a lot of game left.”
After the timeout, the only puck Fleury didn't stop deflected off the body of winger Cam Atkinson early in the third period.
The goal credited to Atkinson restored Columbus' two-goal lead, but even then the Penguins felt momentum was on their side.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik's goal with two seconds remaining in the second period helped, but so did puck possession, which had previously gone missing for the Penguins.
Winger Jussi Jokinen noted the Penguins “won the shots” 38-17 after Columbus' opening two scores.
“They got a quick lead, but after that, we played pretty well,” Jokinen said, adding that the second and third periods were the Penguins' “best of our season.”
“We just kept going. We got pucks deep and played there, kept cycling the puck and put pucks in front of the net — and we got some goals.”
Three goals, actually, and in a span of 2:13 in the third period the Penguins went from down two to ahead by one.
The second series goals by center Brandon Sutter and Jokinen sandwiched the first in 14 career playoff games by winger Lee Stempniak.
Two narratives followed the Penguins into this postseason: a perceived lack of depth scoring and the past postseason performances by Fleury.
They can take a commanding 3-1 lead by winning Game 4 on the road Wednesday night, and the Penguins are in that spot because of their depth scoring and Fleury.
Crosby, Malkin and their two trusted wingers — Chris Kunitz and James Neal, respectively — have yet to produce a goal against Columbus. Orpik has the edge on Letang, too.
“It's been good,” Sutter said. “It's not always going to be your top two or three guys. Everybody's got to pull their own weight.”
Counting a double-overtime goal by Blue Jackets winger Matt Calvert in Game 2, Fleury had allowed three goals on his past four shots faced when Bylsma called the timeout Monday.
Fleury stopped 16 of the next 17 shots.
“That's the thing I notice the most with him now,” Letang said. “It doesn't matter if a (lousy) goal goes in. He's onto the next save. He's more calm. He's been that way all season, so it's not surprising he was that way when we needed it most.
“We just expect that he's going to stop the next shot.”