The Goalie who Bounced Back

Bruce Bennett

Marc-Andre Fleury was easily the worst goalie in the past few years of the playoffs. No longer. The Pens goalie has given his team a chance to win every game in the 2014 playoffs, and is no longer the butt of jokes.

We're two days away from the one year anniversary of our beloved SBN Hockey blog manager Travis Hughes' article entitled: "Marc-Andre Fleury, the worst playoff goalie in hockey". It's impossible to say anything contained in it is untrue, even if Travis probably got way too much joy out of writing such an article.

What a difference a year makes, eh?

Fleury has been a revelation these playoffs, where he's been the best and most consistent player for the Pittsburgh Penguins so far. Ever since "The Blunder in Columb-er" back in Game 4 on April 23, Fleury has won four out of his last five games, giving up just seven goals in the process and boasting a sterling .948 save percentage.

You remember that Game 4, don't you? Fleury was the Pens best player that night too, well for the first 59 minutes anyways. Until he went out of his crease to play a wrapped-around puck that eluded him and quickly was deposited in his net. Unsurprisingly, just 2:46 into overtime a long range wrist shot ended the game and tied the series at 2 games. It gifted the Columbus Blue Jackets their first (and to date, their only) playoff win on home ice in franchise history.

At that moment, there may have been cause for concern among Pens fans, but Fleury held it together. He played a strong Game 5, and deserved a better fate in Game 6 when the team in front of him stopped skating and tried to let the pesky Blue Jackets back into the playoffs. Even in Game 1 vs the New York Rangers, the first goal Fleury allowed was a long wrist shot that he'd probably want back. As in any Stanley Cup playoff, the road has been bumpy and there's been opportunities for seasons to fall apart.

But, time and again, Fleury has stayed the course. Whether you want to heap partial credit on new goaltender coach Mike Bales, last summer's psychiatrist sessions, the new defensive pairs that have seen Paul Martin and Kris Letang play so wonderfully lately, Jacques Martin's defensive influence or all of the above, Fleury has been incredibly steady so far. And, no coaching or shrink is going to actually keep the puck out of the net in the moment of truth.

That's all Fleury. That's the guy who posted the league's best save percentage in the playoffs back in 2008, and the guy who out-dueled the Flyers, made the breakaway save in Game 7 on Alex Ovechkin to help power past the Capitals, the guy who slid over and blocked Nicklas Lidstrom's shot in Game 7 vs the Red Wings in 2009.

That's ancient history though. More importantly, in the present, the Pens have won 6 of 9 playoff games so far this spring, with the only 3 losses all coming in overtime. Conceivably, they've been one shot away from winning them all. So, that debacle in Columbus aside, Fleury's given them a chance to win each and every single game this spring.

Fleury's playoff play had been a weakness, but has recently been transformed into a strength- culminating in two straight shutouts versus the Rangers. For the guy who was the worst playoff goalie in hockey a year ago, that's quite the turnaround.

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