PITTSBURGH – The slogan was in white on the black T-shirt that Marc-Andre Fleury wore during a Mellon Arena news conference Tuesday.
Demand More. That was a challenge the Penguins gave themselves during training camp last autumn, and Fleury is still heeding it – as he proved the previous night in Detroit with an incredible 55-save performance.
The six-foot-two stringbean from Sorel, Que., made Pittsburgh’s 4-3 triumph in Game 5 of the NHL’s championship series possible. It shaved Detroit’s lead to 3-2 and forced a Game 6 Wednesday (8 p.m. ET).
“He really was the saviour for us,” captain Sidney Crosby said Wednesday. “Time after time, he was answering the call.
“Without him, we’d be in a different scenario.”
Like, the Red Wings would be nursing hangovers from champagne celebrations, and the Penguins would be soberly packin’ it up till September.
“That’s the greatest game he ever played,” said good buddy Maxime Talbot, whose goal with 35 seconds left in the third period, and with Fleury off for a sixth skater, forced sudden-death overtime.
Petr Sykora ended 4 1-2 hours of jaw-dropping hockey with a pinpoint shot into a top corner of the Detroit net 9:57 into the third overtime.
Detroit outshot Pittsburgh 58-32, but Fleury kept the Pens’ season alive.
He’s quite the character.
Before each game, Fleury and Talbot stand face to face in the corridor leading from the dressing room to the ice and bash each other. The ritual began when Fleury regained the No. 1 job from Ty Conklin after recovering from a high ankle sprain during the regular season.
“It kind of started with one punch,” Fleury explained. “When we started to get some wins, we were going at it. It’s getting a little ridiculous.”
Just before Game 5, when Joe Louis Arena worker Al Sobotka began his traditional twirling of an octopus tossed onto the ice after the anthem, Fleury squirted at him with his water bottle.
“It was an accident,” was his first explanation when asked about it. “I just missed my mouth by a little bit. Yep.”
A big grin covered his face.
“I don’t know . . . ,” Fleury began anew. “After the first two games there, I thought I’ll give him a little something back. And we won, so it’s good.”
Fleury never seems to frown. He didn’t even let a pratfall out of the bench gate before the start of Game 1 bring his spirits down. He laughed it off.
“He’s a fun guy, obviously,” says Talbot. “He always has a smile on his face.
“Sometimes you look at goalies who are so focused and won’t talk to anyone or anything. Marc is not like that. He has fun before games, after games. He’s always upbeat, always has something funny to say. And he has that smile on his face.
“That’s when he’s at his best – when he’s loose and having fun. This year, the way he came back from his injury, he has been really unbelievable. He’s been confident, too. I think it’s the reason we’re here.”
Flower Power is sweeping Pittsburgh.
The 23-year-old puck stopper agreed with Talbot that his Game 5 effort was the best of his career. It cost him a few of his 180 pounds, but he didn’t mind. He’ll gladly look even more gaunt if he can do it again Wednesday.
“I’ll be ready,” he promised. “I’m sure everybody else in the room will be ready also.
“We just won’t quit.”
Fleury is 14-5 with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in the playoffs. Chris Osgood has been no slouch at the other end in going 13-4 with a 1.53 GAA and .931 save percentage.
Only one team, the Montreal Canadiens in 1971, of 31 that previously lost the first two games of the championship series on the road emerged with the Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh is trying to become the second, and Fleury’s goaltending could make it possible.