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Kovacevic: If Fleury is back, so are Penguins

| Thursday, April 19, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — Anyone doubting whether the Penguins remain alive in these Stanley Cup playoffs, no matter how faint the pulse, really shouldn't have paid too much heed to the franchise-record-tying offense, tough as it was to miss in the 10-3 all-out annihilation of the Flyers in Game 4 on Wednesday night.

Yeah, Jordan Staal was rewarded with a hat trick after he'd been one of the few steady performers all series.

Evgeni Malkin broke through with his first two goals.

Steve Sullivan, in addition to almost singlehandedly restoring sanity to the power play, found top shelf on a rink-length rush.

And, in what I'd bet was most satisfying inside a palpably sighing locker room, Sidney Crosby essentially wrapped up the Philadelphia Daily News' cheap-shot cover • he was amateurishly photo-shopped as the "Cowardly Penguin" • and used it to swat the Flyers for three points.

It was a ton of fun, all of it.

At the same time, we knew Crosby could do that.

And we knew the Penguins could score in big bunches. They've been doing it all along.

To me, the moment that should mean the most — to the Penguins and even the Flyers — was, of all things, a save.

I'll wait until you check a hockey glossary for the term.

Rewind the clock to 14:38 of the second period: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia's finest forward, darted to the left hash and — just as uncontested as most Flyers have been all series — fired a bullet for the far post.

Except this time, Fleury jutted out that big left pad, rock-em-sock-em-robots style, and got the better of the battle.

You know, like he used to.

"It felt good, I know that," Fleury said. "I've been giving up some goals, and it felt good to stop a player like that."

It wasn't exactly a brilliant showing. Not with Fleury giving up three goals on 11 shots — a bad-angle Giroux stuff and two that found the five-hole — in a first period that looked as shaky as his 18 goals over three games.

But be sure that Fleury stopping his final 14 shots and enjoying two periods of silence is precisely what the Penguins can use to turn this single staving-off into much more.

Brooks Orpik is a believer, as he illustrated all day long Wednesday. He had gone out of his way to defend Fleury to wave after wave of reporters in the morning, and he didn't stop afterward.

Citing the save on Giroux, Orpik said, "It's nice when he only has to make one of those a game. I mean, we've given him five breakaways, five two-on-ones and five tap-ins every game. He hasn't been his best, and he'd be the first to tell you that. But we've been terrible."

What's funny is that Fleury might not even need to be at his best to beat Philadelphia.

Did you see Ilya Bryzgalov continuing to look like he lost his contact lenses in the ice?

Five goals, 18 shots.

And how about replacement Sergei Bobrovsky?

Five goals, 18 shots.

Bryzgalov probably will be the Flyers' starter for Game 5, despite 17 goals in four games. I don't think they have a choice.

"He has to have confidence in himself," Jaromir Jagr said. "Nobody's going to help him but himself. I think he's OK."

Reassuring, huh?

Fleury's capable of being far better than OK.

He made another eyepopping save at 5:52 of the third, snagging Braydon Coburn's point-blank backhander, then raising it high enough for the grumbling sea of orange to see.

That's the real Fleury.

That's the one who flashed the boyish grin when I asked if this had lifted him up a bit.

"Well," he answered, "I'm looking forward to Game 5."

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