Hope in full Flower

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- If Marc-Andre Fleury was feeling any nerves with his team on the brink of elimination yesterday, he wasn't showing them.

Even with a horde of media surrounding him at his locker, nothing could wipe the grin off the face of Pittsburgh's starting goaltender.

Whether he'll still be smiling after tonight depends a great deal on how Fleury bounces back from one of the worst games of his post-season career.

Pulled after allowing five goals on 21 shots in Saturday's 5-0 loss to the Red Wings in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena, the man his teammates affectionately call "The Flower" has to come up big in Game 6 or he'll spend another warm spring night watching the Wings celebrate a Cup title.

'WELL PREPARED'

"I'm well prepared. I know what to expect. I know I have to have a big game, but I just have to go out there and play," said Fleury.

"There's always lots of emotions going through a game like this. You just have to block out all the negatives. Keep it simple and have some fun."

Fleury has taken heat for not making enough key saves in the Penguins' losses, and he has been the subject of plenty of chatter on local talk shows since he was yanked from Game 5.

Fleury's teammates had nothing but praise for the 24-year-old yesterday.

"(Criticism) goes with the job," said Pittsburgh forward Maxime Talbot. "When you win (as a goalie), you don't get as much reward as the guy who scores two goals. When you lose, it's all your fault. It's a tough job. He's been unbelievable for us. I wouldn't want any other goalie on the team, but him.

"The fans that think we lost last year and that we're down 3-2 in this series because of Flower, they don't know hockey. He's a big part of our success. If you can't recognize that, you don't know hockey."

Still, doubts linger about Fleury's ability to win the big game.

He is out to prove he belongs in the same breath as Cam Ward, Marty Turco, Eddie Belfour and Mike Vernon -- goalies who also didn't get their due until they hoisted the Cup.

Fleury is confident he and the Penguins can bounce back tonight and keep their championship hopes alive.

"I really believe it's not over," he said. "I really look for that Game 7. But at the same time, we've just got to be ready to play (tonight) and not worry about it."

COMPETITIVE FIRE

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said Fleury's competitive fire and ability to block out distractions should serve him well tonight.

"There's lots of focus on him and there's lots written about his position," Bylsma said.

"There's lots of talk about his play throughout his career. Every day in practice he relishes and enjoys stopping the guys in practice when they come down the wing. Sidney Crosby does score on him, but (Fleury) gets another chance (to stop him) and he's ready for it. That's his personality. He's not bogged down by outside attention from the media. He stops (the puck) with a smile on his face and he gets ready to do it again."

The Penguins stood by Fleury yesterday. Tonight, he must stand tall or his season will be over.


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