Pens’ Fleury flawless in goal again
NEW YORK — Defenseman Matt Niskanen wasn’t with the Penguins when goalie Marc-Andre Fleury backstopped their drive to the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Right wing Craig Adams was.
They both came to the same conclusion: They’ve never seen their goaltender play like this.
Fleury stopped 35 shots in a 2-0 victory on Monday to record consecutive shutouts for the first time in his postseason career, now going precisely 120 minutes without permitting a goal while the Penguins took a 2-1 series lead against the New York Rangers.
“This is the best I’ve seen him play,” Niskanen said. “The last two nights, he’s been so good. He’s been really good since I’ve been in Pittsburgh. He’s won a ton of hockey games, made a ton of highlight reel saves. But the last two nights have been different.”
Adams witnessed Fleury at the height of his power when, five years ago, he appeared on the verge of joining the NHL’s elite for the next decade.
“No,” Adams said, shaking his head. “(I’ve) never (seen him) better than that.”
Fleury has endured notable postseason troubles that had numerous members of the New York media peppering coach Dan Bylsma about his goaltender before Game 3.
Bylsma and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, though, foreshadowed this performance.
It was suggested to Vigneault that Fleury could be easy prey in New York because of his postseason demons.
“Marc-Andre Fleury is a good goalie,” Vigneault said. “He’s won a Stanley Cup, been to two Finals. He’s one of the best in the league.”
Bylsma drew laughs when he said Fleury has “plenty of practice” in regards to dealing with questions about his postseason failures. He said Fleury has been asked such questions in each of the past 100 days.
The Rangers certainly aren’t laughing about what they’ve had to face.
Just like in Game 2, Fleury was forced to contend with three consecutive New York power plays early on Monday. Although the Rangers are struggling mightily on the power play, they fired 10 shots at Fleury while with the man advantage.
He stood tall.
“He was obviously our best penalty killer tonight,” Adams said.
Fleury possessed a little bit of luck, too. Right wing Martin St. Louis hit the post while on the power play, and center Mats Zuccarello hit the crossbar on a play that was ultimately reviewed before being called no call. Fleury said the post and crossbar were his “good friends” on this night.
The rest of the Penguins weren’t buying any talk about luck.
“I’ve seen it since the beginning of the season,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “I’ve just felt so comfortable with him and the way he’s been playing. He was great tonight.”
What impressed the Penguins most was Fleury’s rebound control, which was superb on a night when the Rangers were buzzing while playing in front of their home crowd.
“We had good looks,” Vigneault said. “We just couldn’t score.”
Many Penguins acknowledged that their defensive work wasn’t as strong as it was in Sunday’s Game 2.
“Bigger workload for him tonight,” Niskanen said. “Definitely more shots. I don’t know if they had a ton of Grade-A chances, but they had a handful. And he shut the door every single time.”
Fleury’s regular season road numbers (2.57 GAA, .905 save percentage) were pedestrian. His numbers while playing on the second of consecutive days (4.92 GAA and .833 save percentage) were awful.
But in the playoffs, where he has struggled so frequently in recent years, Fleury is at his best once again.
“It was pretty good,” Fleury said with a smile.
His teammates disagreed slightly.
“That,” defenseman Paul Martin said, “was a great performance.”