PITTSBURGH – Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s bid for a 20th straight win on home ice may be a little less hectic with Tomas Holmstrom hobbled by a hamstring injury.
The Detroit Red Wing forward with whom he often reluctantly shares crease space was injured in the third period of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, but he expects to play through it in Game 4 on Saturday night at Mellon Arena.
Detroit leads the Penguins 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“I had a good rest and a bike ride and treatments, so I look forward to playing,” said Holmstrom, the gritty winger known for crowding the crease while linemates Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk make magic with the puck.
He was injured in a collision with Pittsburgh defenceman Hal Gill, falling heavily to the ice.
“I was going hard to the net in the third period,” Holmstrom added. “I just kind of got opened up and one leg was up in the air and other on the ice.
“Hopefully it’s going to be good. I’ll skate (Saturday morning) and see how it feels. I think it’s going to be OK.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said that if Holmstrom can’t play, Dan Cleary will move into his spot on the top line and Darren McCarty will take his spot in the lineup. But Babcock doesn’t think any shuffling with be necessary.
“Homer’s just got the back of his leg – the hamstring – he’s got a little problem there,” said Babcock. “We think he’ll be fine. He’s a tough guy.”
Detroit will need all its weapons if Fleury plays anything like he did in Game 3 on Wednesday night, when he held off an early Red Wings barrage and then gutted out the win by stopping 15 of 16 shots in the third period.
It was Fleury’s 19th consecutive victory on home ice, where he has not lost since Nov. 21. But the entire team is strong at home, having won 17 in a row at Mellon Arena, including all nine home games in these playoffs.
“It’s a combination of things,” said Fleury, drafted first overall by the Penguins in 2003. “Guys really feel comfortable and confident here.
“We always have our fans behind us and they’ve been great all year, so it’s great to play here.”
Fleury put much of the blame on himself as the Penguins were shut out 4-0 and 3-0 in the opening two games of the final in Detroit, but their leaders stepped up back on home ice, as Sidney Crosby scored two goals and Fleury sparkled in goal.
“Since Marc came back from his injury, he’s been one of if not the best goalie in the league,” said teammate Maxime Talbot. “He’s loose, he’s having fin.
“He’s awesome at home, but I think he is on the road, too.”
At mid-season, it appeared that back-up Ty Conklin would be Pittsburgh’s playoff goalie as the veteran excelled while Fleury sat out from Dec. 6 to Feb. 10 with a high ankle sprain, then spent 10 days getting his timing back in the minors.
Conklin’s play and a big second half by centre Evgeni Malkin in the absence of Crosby, who also missed time with a high ankle sprain,were big reasons the Penguins were able to finish second in the Eastern Conference to Montreal.
Conklin was called up from the minors when Fleury was hurt and went 10-1-2 in 14 games, including an eight-game winning run.
The rangy, six-foot-two Fleury won back the starting job in the playoff stretch drive, but it was tough for coach Michel Therrien to take Conklin out of the net.
“Marc-Andre knows we have a lot of confidence in him,” Therrien said. “Whether you’re a first-year guy or a 10th-year guy we base our decisions on performance.
“Ty was phenomenal. I had no reason to take him out. And the team was playing with confidence with Conklin in net. You can’t just say to a guy ‘Ok, thank you very much, but the No. 1 guy is coming in.’ That’s not how it works.”
He said Conklin’s performance slipped a little just as Fleury was hitting top form and that settled the goaltending question.
Now he needs another big game from Fleury to avoid falling behind 3-1 with Game 5 looming in Detroit on Monday night.
The Penguins feel better about themselves after winning Game 3, particularly with Malkin showing signs he may be ready to emerge from a slump in which he has one goal and one assist in his last seven games.
“One thing I can see with our team is we’re getting better every game,” added Therrien. “That’s a good sign for a young team.”
Both teams practised Friday after taking Thursday off to rest up bumps and bruises and take their minds off hockey. The Red Wings took their entire team to spend the night at a resort outside Pittsburgh and bussed back Friday morning.