PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Marc-Andre Fleury wanted to leave his recent troubles behind, relax and have fun. The result was a rare victory this season and a milestone.
The embattled Fleury made 15 saves in his best performance of the season and the Pittsburgh Penguins won for only the third time in nine games, 5-1 over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.
The franchise goalie who backstopped Pittsburgh to the 2009 Stanley Cup title, Fleury earned his 150th career win, but only the second in nine starts this season. He started and finished only one of the previous five games, temporarily losing his starting job to backup Brent Johnson.
“I don’t think technically I did anything different,” said Fleury, who was 1-6 and hadn’t won in regulation before Friday. “But maybe I was a little more relaxed. I tried to not worry too much and just go out there play hockey. It was fun, fun to win at the end.”
Pascal Dupuis, Alex Goligoski, Max Talbot, Sidney Crosby and Deryk Engelland scored for Pittsburgh, which had won only two of its first seven games at Consol Energy Center.
Steven Stamkos scored his NHL-high 15th goal for Tampa Bay. The Lightning have lost five of six.
The only game in which Fleury had not given up at least three goals this season was his most recent start Saturday in Phoenix, when he was pulled after giving up two goals on five shots in the first seven minutes.
“He played great tonight,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He had some big saves and stayed tall. It was a great game for Marc-Andre Fleury.”
Fleury was boosted by a strong defensive effort by the Penguins. Pittsburgh allowed only 11 even-strength shots. But he also made some key saves, stopping sniper Martin St. Louis as he was in alone during the second period, and getting his left leg out to stop Adam Hall on a rebound while Tampa Bay was on a 5-on-3 power play with about 13 minutes to play.
That was part of Pittsburgh killing 1:15 of a Lightning two-man advantage with the game at 2-1. Less than two minutes prior to that save, Stamkos scored 10 seconds into an earlier two-man advantage on a one-timed slapshot from the left-wing circle after playing catch with St. Louis.
“He’s a good goalie. He’s won a championship,” Stamkos said about Fleury. “He knows what it takes. He’s just been struggling but he’s not going to struggle all year. He made some big saves.”
Playing its first game without captain Vincent Lecavalier due to a broken hand sustained in a loss at Washington on Friday night, the Lightning scored fewer than three goals for the third time in five games.
Former No. 1 overall draft choices Crosby and Stamkos tied for the Rocket Richard Trophy as NHL goal leaders last season, and Crosby moved into third place this season with his 11th with 3:16 left in the game. Crosby assisted on Engelland’s first career goal with 1:10 to go to move into second in the NHL in points with 24—three behind Stamkos.
“It was a pretty passive game from both teams,” Crosby said. “There was a lot of neutral zone time and not a ton of chances, but we stayed with it and capitalized on the chances we got.
“(Fleury) helped us get there by making some big saves.”
The game was scoreless through 28 minutes until Pittsburgh scored twice in a span of 27 seconds in the second period.
Dupuis’ goal was a deflection of Kris Letang’s wrist shot from the right point. It was the fifth goal of the season for Dupuis, second-most on the Penguins.
Goligoski made it 2-0 when he finished a pass across the slot from Mike Rupp into a mostly open net for his fourth of the season. Talbot gave the Penguins insurance with an unassisted goal, his third, with 7:48 to play, skating down the left wing and firing a wrister that beat goalie Mike Smith high.
In addition to Lecavalier, the Lighting was without winger Steve Downie, who missed his second consecutive game because of a back injury, and regulars Simon Gagne and Dana Tyrell.
“I can’t be down (on his team),” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “I mean, they’re pushing, they’re giving everything they’ve got. You should see the guys on the bench. They’re winded out there, they’re dead tired, but they’re still going, so it’s all we can ask for right now.”
NOTES: The 25-year-old Fleury is the seventh-youngest NHL goalie to reach 150 wins. … Crosby has nine points in his past four games, with at least a goal in each. … The Lighting has allowed seven third-period goals in its past two games.