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Starkey: Fleury's time to shine

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This has been a Yeah but series for Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Has he been beaten on several long-range shots by Alex Ovechkin?

Yeah but that's Ovechkin. He does it to everyone (Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche said that when he and Fleury look at video of Ovechkin's goals — even slow-motion video — they often cannot see the puck until it bounces out of the net).

Didn't the Capitals beat Fleury with two harsh-angle shots in Game 6?

Yeah but one of them bounced off a Capitals' player, and the other appeared to elude Fleury only because defenseman Hal Gill skated behind him and blocked his path to the opposite post.

Doesn't Fleury's sickly series save percentage (.874) pale in comparison to that of Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov (.907), who has faced 67 more shots?

Yeah but Varlamov doesn't have to face Ovechkin, and sometimes it's easier to stay sharp with a ton of shots.

Play the Yeah but game long enough, and you can almost convince yourself that Fleury has been fine.

Well, he hasn't been fine.

But he can make up for it in Game 7 tonight.

Don't get me wrong. Fleury has been OK, but only OK. For the most part, he has been the second-best goalie in the series, which wouldn't be a problem except that only two goalies are playing.

On Tuesday, I took an informal poll of 10 media types, most of whom have played or coached in the NHL, and asked them to rate Fleury's performance in this series on a scale of one to 10.

Nobody gave him above a '7.'

One observer put it best when he said, "Any other goaltender would have the Penguins at this same point in the series."

Then again, the Penguins might not be in the second round if not for Fleury — he was the team MVP against the Flyers — and nobody will care what happened in the first six games if he is phenomenal tonight, which he likely will need to be.

Asked to rate his play against the Capitals, Fleury said, "It's kind of tough to say. There are a lot of goals, more than I would like. That's frustrating. At the same time, I watch tape with Gilles, and there's some bounces they get, some nice goals they get. But definitely, I'd like to make more saves."

To this point in his playoff career, Fleury, 24, has developed something of a dual personality.

He is brilliant at times and consistently solid for long stretches but can be leaky at the worst moments and has a penchant for yielding the calamitous goal, whether it be a deflection off his runaway stick, a bank shot off his back or an own-goal (happened in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, when Fleury inadvertently knocked in the deciding goal off his backside).

The Capitals' first goal in this series, when the Penguins were dominating them early in Game 1, came when Fleury turned a non-chance (Matt Bradley's weak attempt from the corner) into a Grade-A chance by kicking the puck into the slot.

On the other hand, Fleury has made a number of timely saves. He has a short memory, too, so weird goals and off-games don't tend to linger.

This will be Fleury's first Game 7 in the NHL. He has delivered some of his greatest postseason performances on the road, Game 5 in Detroit last season and Game 4 against the Flyers this year being prime examples.

Meloche likes Fleury's chances tonight.

"I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm sure he'll be ready."

Make no mistake, if the Penguins win, it'll be because their three biggest stars — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Fleury — play to the moment.

No ands, ifs or Yeah buts about that.

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