Sport Joe Starkey: Fleury makes GM Rutherford look like a genius

15:06  13 april  2017
15:06  13 april  2017 Source:   Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Fleury was brilliant in the Penguins 3-1 win. By Joe Starkey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The conversation started like this: Me: “How about Fleury tonight?” Ed Johnston: “Thank God Jimmy never made a move.” E.J. was talking about Penguins general manager “Jimmy” Rutherford , of course, the

Joe Starkey : Fleury makes GM Rutherford look like a genius . Sign up for free newsletters and get more of the Post-Gazette delivered to your inbox.

Ran into an old-time goaltender on my way out of the Penguins’ locker room Wednesday night.

The conversation started like this:

Me: “How about Fleury tonight?”

Ed Johnston: “Thank God Jimmy never made a move.”

E.J. was talking about Penguins general manager “Jimmy” Rutherford, of course, the guy who’s done just about everything right since early last season. That would include, notably, holding onto Marc-Andre Fleury instead of trading him when trading him became a clear option beginning in July.

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BOX SCORE: PENGUINS 3, BLUE JACKETS 1

How could you not think of Rutherford as Fleury, a last-minute starter, was making 31 saves in a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets?

It wasn’t so much that Fleury stole the game. It was more that he lent a sense of calm to what could have been a jarring situation and weathered a first period in which the Penguins were outshot 16-3.

His best stop was against Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, who walked in alone from the right point and blasted a shot that caromed off Fleury’s upper right arm.

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Pucks stuck to Fleury all night. He didn’t allow many rebounds, and when he did, his teammates were there to clean up. He basically never flinched despite the adverse circumstances. Which is to say, not knowing he would play until goalie coach Mike Bales told him as much about 15 minutes before the puck drop, or shortly after starter Matt Murray sustained a lower-body injury contorting to stop a puck during warm-ups.

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“I just tried to take it like a regular game,” Fleury said. “I was a little nervous at the beginning, maybe from not expecting it. The guys did a great job in front of me.”

Rutherford said all along — through the summer, the early season and the trade deadline — that his preference was to keep Fleury. He said you never know when you’ll have to dig into your depth in goal. He probably didn’t expect that time would come literally minutes before Game 1, but then again, this club’s playoff history is littered with strange-but-true goalie stories, from Frank Pietrangelo to Johan Hedberg to Jeff Zatkoff, Matt Murray and finally Fleury.

Fleury’s teammates were thrilled when he survived the deadline.

“Everyone would say we love Marc-Andre Fleury as a person, as a teammate and as a goaltender,” said defenseman Ian Cole. “We’re very fortunate to have two world-class goaltenders on our team. For him to step up like he did tonight shouldn’t be a big story because he’s been doing it all year for us.

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“He’s been doing it his [whole] career. He played how everyone expected him to play.”

Once the Penguins regained their equilibrium at the start of the second period, they showed the kind of firepower Columbus simply doesn’t have.

I mean, few teams do, but unless I missed something, I can’t think of a truly pretty play the Blue Jackets made all night. The Penguins mostly kept them to the perimeter and blocked 22 shots in front of Fleury.

At the other end, the Penguins combined a little Harlem Globetrotters and a little Barcelona soccer on their first goal.

First, you had Evgeni Malkin somehow keeping himself onside as he reeled in a bomb, then delivering a pass to Kessel flying into the zone. Then you had Kessel making a one-touch kick pass with his right skate — yes, he meant to do it — onto the tape of a streaking Bryan Rust, who beat likely Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky with perfect wrist shot.

Columbus doesn’t score that goal.

Columbus doesn’t have Phil Kessel, who not only drew a penalty to set up the Penguins’ second goal but scored it on a blistering wrist shot from the low left circle. Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington allowed Kessel to walk in and pick his spot. That’s never a good idea.

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After Nick BoninoBoninoBoninooooooo! scored to make it 3-0 late in the second, the only suspense left was whether Fleury would get the shutout. A Matt Calvert goal with 7:19 left ruined that idea but hardly ruined the night for a gold-out crowd of 18,563 that punctuated the evening with several chants of “Flur-eee! Flur-eee! Flur-eee!”

This will no doubt lead to plenty of debate over who should play when and if Murray returns to health. It probably shouldn’t. Mike Sullivan has managed the situation expertly all season, pretty much squashing any “controversy.”

Sullivan isn’t blowing smoke when he says the Penguins have “two No. 1 goalies.” He means it.

Fleury proved it.

Joe Starkey: jstarkey@post-gazette.com and Twitter @joestarkey1. Joe Starkey can be heard on the “Starkey and Mueller” show weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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Fleury soaks in experience of setting Penguins' playoff wins record .
Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't scheduled to make any playoff starts for the Pittsburgh Penguins this year. Expected to serve as backup to Matt Murray, who backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup win in 2016, Fleury was pressed into action against the Columbus Blue Jackets when the incumbent fell prey to injury prior to the start of the postseason.

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