PITTSBURGH -- At the end of the longest and greatest game of his life, Marc-Andre Fleury tried to put some words together while sitting at his locker in the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing room. He couldn't.
He babbled something incoherently and then tried to repeat himself again, without much success. This is what six periods of playing goal against the Detroit Red Wings can do to a young athlete who picked up his team on Monday night -- and early yesterday morning -- and carried them into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.
He was exhausted after facing 58 shots in 109 minutes and 57 seconds of hockey. In the third and fourth periods, the shots were 27-6.
There is a game tonight only because Fleury did the impossible and the unlikely -- and now the dream final that everyone talked about coming in finally has taken shape.
He stole a game that had to be stolen. Question is: Does he have two more like that in him?
Yesterday, after a long sleep, good food and plenty of hydration, Fleury was able to explain himself -- in between jokes, that is.
He told the story of starting out Game 5 by squirting his water bottle at Al the octopus guy at Joe Louis Arena. His way of establishing territory. "It was an accident," he said. "I just missed my mouth by a little bit (laughter). Yep. It was just at the game he does it to us. And after the first two games, I thought I'll give him a little something back. And we won, so it's good."
Good for him. Good for hockey. This is not yet the classic Stanley Cup final some are making it out to be. But it's getting there.
The first two games were almost robotic wins by the Red Wings. They controlled the puck, the pace, the clock even in shutting out Pittsburgh twice. Game 3 was terrific in every conceivable way but in Game 4 the Wings again blanketed the Penguins defensively.
Then came the six periods of Game 5, classic to the end. The Penguins had an early lead, the Red Wings had a late lead, and it took three overtime periods and a power-play goal by Petr Sykora to force a Game 6 tonight.
"I think the building is going to be rocking," Sykora said. "And I think we are all excited and hopefully we can get it done tomorrow night."
For Fleury, it will start with a fight, and that has nothing to do with Al the octopus guy. Every game starts that way with him and teammate Maxime Talbot.
The tradition of sorts began after Fleury returned from his high ankle sprain injury and his season and his career began to turn around.
"We just kind of started with one punch," Fleury said. "And the thing has been going for a while, and we got some wins and now we're going at it. It's getting a little ridiculous but we're still working on it."
Talbot will be sure to get in a few jabs at Fleury tonight, to make sure he's up to the task.
Talbot called Fleury's Game 5 performance the greatest he ever has seen.
"For me, it was one of the greatest games," he said. "I've known Marc very well and that's the greatest game he has ever played. It was probably one of the greatest saves I've seen in the second period against (Mikael) Samuelsson.
"You look at him and he's having fun. But he was so good last night. So it was inspiring for us."
The one thing the Penguins players know is that Fleury won't be uptight tonight.
"Marc's not like that," Talbot said. "He has fun before games, he's always upbeat. Always has something funny to say. And he's having a smile on his face.
"That's when he's at his best ... I think it's the reason we're here."
Said captain Sidney Crosby: "He was our saviour last night. And time after time he was answering the call. It was great to see."
Fleury was really the only reason the Stanley Cup wasn't presented in Detroit after Game 5. He may have to be the only reason again tonight.
"We're in the Stanley Cup final," Fleury said with a smile, reminding everyone with his exuberance just how young and inexperienced he really is. "And we're not done.
"So that's pretty good."