Penguins confident Fleury in peak form
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is the Pittsburgh Penguins' other No. 1.
Pittsburgh's four-year transformation from the team with the NHL's worst record to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in Detroit on Friday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET) is often pegged as starting with Sidney Crosby, drafted No. 1 overall in 2005.
But it truly began with Fleury being selected first overall in 2003.
Just like Crosby, Fleury was an 18-year-old Canadian with enormous potential who didn't play a day in the minors before starting his first NHL game.
Fleury's first season was a rough one, yet, like Crosby, the Penguins wouldn't be a victory from winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992 without him.
It may seem to Fleury like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin earn the praise for the wins and he gets blamed for the losses, as he did after allowing 11 goals in three losses at Detroit so far in the series.
Too unpredictable. Too susceptible to giving up soft goals. Too flighty. Too unreliable to take a team to a championship.
Fleury's heard all the reasons why the Penguins can't win because of him, so he knows there's only one way to answer the criticism and doubters.
Play like No. 1.
"I think everybody feels good about it," Fleury said of the first Stanley Cup final Game 7 in franchise history.
"I'm really excited. It doesn't matter what we've done there before or the games we lost there, it's a matter of going and playing our game.
"Just play that one game. That's it."
Just one. As bad as Fleury was during Detroit's steamroller of a 5-0 victory in Game 5 on Saturday, when he was yanked during a four-goal second period and spent the rest of the game watching from a tunnel, he was equally magnificent when Pittsburgh came back to win 2-1 in Game 6 on Tuesday.
Fleury was brilliant, and made a game-saving stop on a Dan Cleary breakaway in the final two minutes.
That save was similar to one he made on an Alexander Ovechkin breakaway in Pittsburgh's 6-2 win at Washington in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
That might have been the save of the playoffs and it gave his teammates confidence he can come through Friday.
"He was so solid for us [in Game 6] and you look back at the other Game 7 against Washington, he is a big-game player," Crosby said. "Your goalie's got to be that way [and] we're very confident in him."
'Just try to keep it simple'
Fleury versus Detroit's Chris Osgood might seem like the biggest mismatch of Game 7, but Fleury (35 wins, 2.67 goals-against average, four shutouts) had a better regular season than Osgood (26 wins, 3.09 goals-against average, two shutouts).
Fleury may not have played a Game 7 in the finals, but Osgood hasn't, either.
Detroit may have far more playoff experience than the Penguins, but this is the Red Wings' first Game 7 in a Stanley Cup final since 1964.
None of the Wings were playing then, not even 47-year-old Chris Chelios.
"Just focus on my game, and not think too much about the outside stuff," Fleury said of his approach. "Just try to keep it simple — one save at a time, one shot at a time — that's what I've got to think about."
Fleury experienced problems with the springy boards and tricky bounces at Joe Louis Arena as Detroit won 3-1 in each of the first two games, but Friday will be Fleury's fourth game in 14 days there and he's learning to adjust.
"No, I won't change a thing," Fleury said. "I haven't changed all year.
"It's not time, in Game 7 here, to make any changes. Just go with the same and give all I've got."
'All for nothing if you don't win'
Despite the 11 Stanley Cup banners hanging from the ceiling, the octopi that fly from the stands and the aura of winning that inhabits Joe Louis Arena, the Penguins plan to approach it like any other game.
As defenceman Brooks Orpik said: "It's kind of all for nothing if you don't win. It's kind of a wasted opportunity."
"It's one game, and the winning team brings it [the Stanley Cup] home," Penguins forward Max Talbot said. "Both teams have pressure.
"It should be interesting [because] we beat them there during the regular season. I don't think we have a problem playing there."
For all of Fleury's flops in Detroit — he tripped coming onto the ice for Game 1 of last year's final — and his career 3.64 GAA and .887 save percentage at Detroit, Fleury insists he has no trepidation about playing the biggest game of his career there.
"It just seems like we keep moving to another game, another series," Fleury said. "But this is it.
"That's why we've got to empty the tank, give all we got and try to get that thing. We've got to be ready and focused and just give it to them."