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Goalie Fleury rescues Penguins in shootout win over Maple Leafs

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Josh Yohe
Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012

Rarely is a goaltender given the game's No. 1 star when he allows four goals. That center Evgeni Malkin tied the game with 6.6 seconds remaining and won it in a shootout would theoretically make it even more difficult for any goaltender to be considered the player of the game.

But this was Marc-Andre Fleury's night.

Fleury made a number of remarkable saves and bailed out a Penguins team that played perhaps its worst defensive game of the season in a 5-4 victory Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins have won eight straight and return to action tonight in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

"Flower was so great tonight," said center Joe Vitale, who scored an important goal while the Penguins were roaring back from a 4-1 third-period deficit.

"We could have been down, 8-0, at one point. They had Grade-A chances. He was just that good."

The Penguins committed an uncommon amount of turnovers. With Toronto ahead, 2-0, the Penguins permitted a two-on-none, a breakaway and a two-on-one.

Fleury was there to make a number of athletic saves.

As the game opened up late in the second period and into the third, the Penguins began to allow even more quality opportunities to the Maple Leafs, whose speed gave the Penguins fits.

"We were very generous tonight," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Fleury wasn't.

The score sheet will say that Fleury stopped 35 of 39 shots, which isn't statistically impressive. However, the quality of saves he was forced to make left the Penguins appreciative that their goaltender gave them a chance to win a game that Toronto controlled for the first 50 minutes. The Maple Leafs had three breakaways. Fleury stopped them all.

"Don't know that we deserved the fate we got tonight," Bylsma said. "Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding. He made some huge, huge saves. He allowed us to get to the shootout."

Malkin had something to do with that, also.

The league's leading scorer didn't have one of his stronger performances of the season, but like he has so many times during the Penguins' eight-game winning streak, Malkin provided late heroics. This time, the heroics came at the last second. Almost literally.

Malkin evened the game with 6.6 seconds left — the number is fitting, as Malkin is on a Mario Lemieux-like run these days — when he deflected a James Neal shot off his left shoulder and past Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson.

"He's incredible right now," Vitale said. "He's just giving us so much confidence right now."

Although the Penguins were pleased to emerge with the win — they stand alone in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 62 points and have moved within five of the conference lead — they were not happy with their performance.

Fleury stole this game.

"I know I had countless chances in front of the net and couldn't bury them," Toronto center Joffrey Lupul said. "In the first period, he was the best player on the ice."

He was pretty good the rest of the way, too, and punctuated the win by stopping Toronto star Phil Kessel to give the Penguins the shootout victory.

Left wing Matt Cooke, left wing Steve Sullivan, Vitale and Malkin scored for the Penguins. Sullivan, Vitale and Malkin scored in the game's final 12 minutes to bring the Penguins back from a 4-1 deficit.

"After 4-1," Fleury said, "Yeah, I think, with the bunch of guys we have in the room, I'm just trying to make the next save. I believed we could come back."

Scoring summary

Second period

Maple Leafs, 1-0 (6:51): D Dion Phaneuf skated around D Paul Martin, circled around the net and fired a centering pass to C Mikhail Grabovski, who lifted a shot over fallen G Marc-Andre Fleury.

Maple Leafs, 2-0 (9:55): Grabovski skated down the right wing on a two-on-two, took advantage of a screen and fired a wrist shot over Fleury's right shoulder.

Penguins, 2-1 (16:07): Martin threw a shot on net from the left point, and LW Matt Cooke managed to free his stick and deflect the shot past G Jonas Gustavsson.

Third period

Maple Leafs, 3-1 (6:18): C Tyler Bozak took the puck with speed down the right wing and fired a shot that beat Fleury high and to the stick side.

Maple Leafs, 4-1 (6:37): Grabovski took advantage of a Martin turnover and found wide open LW Clarke MacArthur on a two-on-one. MacArthur easily beat Fleury.

Penguins, 4-2 (8:33): Sullivan raced down the right wing following a Toronto turnover and beat Gustavsson to the glove side with a slap shot.

Penguins, 4-3 (15:01): C Joe Vitale created a turnover with a strong effort behind the net, and ultimately grabbed a rebound and stuffed in a shot past Gustavsson.

Penguins, 4-4 (19:54): RW James Neal's shot deflected off C Evgeni Malkin's chest and into the net.

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