April 19, 2012
Fleury back in his happy place
By Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency
PITTSBURGH - James Neal had Wednesday night off for the Pittsburgh Penguins and that put him in a position to do some observing.
Neal, the high-scoring winger who was suspended for Game 4 of the opening-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, saw something that put a smile on his face.
It was a smile on the face of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"That's a scary thing. It's fun to see. When you see that smile creep out, it's something good," Neal said.
When Fleury has got that smile on his face, he's in a good place.
Where Fleury had been was up to his frown in goals in the first three games of this series, all won by the Flyers, as his save percentage sunk below the .800 mark.
But after looking like it was going to be more of the same in Game 4 -- Fleury gave up three goals on the first 10 shots he faced as the Flyers took a 3-2 lead -- he closed the door and stopped the final 15 shots he faced. His team was well on its way to a 10-3 win when he made sharp saves on Philly's Claude Giroux and Braydon Coburn.
"He made two really big saves in the second, one in particular on Giroux, and he makes a big one in the third on Coburn with the glove save on a rush. Whether they meant a ton to the score at the time, especially in the third, I thought they were big saves for Marc," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "The type of saves you get from Marc-Andre Fleury."
If the Penguins are going to win Game 5 Friday night and keep alive their chances to become the fourth team to come back from an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series, Fleury will have to pick up where he left off against the Flyers.
"It felt good," said Fleury of his save on Giroux, the leading playoff scorer with 10 points. "It just seems like he's scored a lot, so it's definitely nice to stop a good player on a one-timer.
"It finally feels good, but it's just one."
At the other end of the ice, the worst-case scenario unfolded with starter Ilya Bryzgalov looking totally out of sorts and Sergei Bobrovsky not doing much better in his mop-up role. The quirky Bryzgalov has been getting some sideways glances from teammates for most of the season and you have to wonder how fragile the Flyers could be with another shaky start Friday night.
This has not been a series that's been kind to the goalies -- 45 goals have already been scored. The most goals in a playoff series is the 69 the Edmonton Oilers (44) and the Chicago Blackhawks (25) combined for in 1985. That was a six-game series.
Nobody has been able to come up with an explanation for the "back to the '80s" retro approach to defence in this series.
"I don't have a lot of explanation for the dynamic on the ice," said Bylsma. "We were down and up in (Game 4) and looking at the clock and it ends up 4-3 in the first period. You don't know how many goals it's going to take to win at that point in time. It feels strange for a playoff game and a playoff series and pretty much every game has been some degree of that. I like the fact we didn't give up much and didn't give up a goal in the final 40 minutes.
"Special teams has really kind of blown it up in this series as a factor, a big factor, in each game. The number of special teams goals has been off the charts. It's blown up some of the games and made them high scoring. I do anticipate being in games where it's tighter, more playoff type of hockey. It just hasn't gotten there yet. Again, after the first period you're kind of shaking your head."
The Flyers have the top-rated power play in the playoffs at 9-for-15 (60%) and the Penguins are fourth, 7-for-21 (33.3%) after a 4-for-9 performance in Game 4.
Usually they say the goaltender is the best penalty killer and the quality of the goaltending so far speaks to how bad it has been.
If the Penguins are going to win Game 5 and keep this series going, they'll need Fleury, their penalty killing and their power play going like they did in Game 4.
Let Bylsma correct that:
"We're not in a series any longer," he said, "we're in one game."