We’ve all seen or heard about Frank Pietrangelo’s legendary heroics known simply as “the save.” Today, I present to you a different type of legendary: “the goal.”
Last night, after the Pittsburgh Penguins fell to a 3-0 first period deficit against the Boston Bruins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final series, coach Dan Bylsma went to his “back-up,” signaling for maligned goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to return to the goal he owned for so many years.
Tomas Vokoun had given up three goals two days earlier in a 3-0 loss to the Bruins, and his three-goal first period was enough for Bylsma to make a change.
Fleury entered the scene, making his first appearance since Game Four of the opening round of the playoffs nearly one month ago. It was his time to prove all the naysayers wrong and reclaim his crease and the confidence of Penguin nation.
Simply stated, it was his time for redemption.
Well, actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. Fleury did manage to go just over three minutes (actually, closer to three and a half minutes…let’s give him as much as we can here, because it won’t last…) without giving up a goal. Then again, the Bruins hadn’t put the puck on net in that time, either.
Anyway, the light began to peak through the dark skies as Brandon Sutter scored on the rush with 0:34 left in the first period, giving the Penguins a breath of fresh air and some new life in what had become a 3-1 game.
Great! Fantastic! Amazing!
A goal in the final minute or the first minute of a period is considered to be a momentum booster, and so it looked like the Penguins would carry the energy into the second period.
That confidence lasted a full 25 seconds before Fleury let in “the goal.”
It was the first shot he’d faced in nearly a month, and he failed to stop it. It was a save that was needed to be made for the Penguins to have a chance at winning the game (and possibly the series), and he failed to make it. It was an opportunity to begin a long process of healing between Fleury, his team, and the fans, and he failed to seize it.
No matter what Fleury has done in his career, no matter how many huge saves he’s made, how many wins he’s accrued, or how many Stanley Cups he’s won, this could be the single moment that defines his career moving forward, just as Pietrangelo’s “save” in the opening round of 1991 playoffs defined his career.
At a time when his team needed him most – and an opportunity he surely had been waiting for – he failed miserably and let everyone down.
Fleury went on to let in two more goals in the final two periods of the game, but neither – and I’ll argue none in his career – was quite as deflating or defining as the one he let in with just 0:09 left in the first period of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final series on June 3, 2013.
Look, Vokoun and the Penguins dug themselves into a 3-0 deficit, so it might be slightly unfair to be so harsh on Fleury today. But while there are 20 players who laced up last evening and 20 players who were at fault, Fleury is a Stanley Cup winning goaltender who was charged with stepping in and holding down the fort.
And he couldn’t do it.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for last night’s loss, and quite frankly, if the series ends without the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final series, I fully expect heads to roll.
But following his showing last night – and as a once staunch Fleury backer, it pains me to say this — it’s difficult to picture Fleury being trusted in goal for the Penguins ever again. He’s let his team down too many times, and his time with the Penguins is done.
Following the game last night, Bylsma was unsure of who would start Game Three tomorrow night.
I think it’s obvious who shouldn’t.