Game 6: Cap­i­tals at Pen­guins, to­mor­row, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Net­work | Pitts­burgh leads se­ries, 3-2

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JESSE DOUGHERTY jesse.dougherty@wash­post.com

‘Flower’ out to dry: Caps fi­nally solve Pen­guins goalie Fleury, and Ver­i­zon fans let him hear about it.

For the first time all se­ries, four Cap­i­tals goals sat on the score­board and Marc-An­dre Fleury was at the cen­ter of at­ten­tion for the wrong rea­sons.

Fleury, the Pen­guins’ goal­tender, spent the pre­vi­ous four games bend­ing but not breaking, us­ing ev­ery bit of his flex­i­bil­ity to help shove the Cap­i­tals into a 3-1 hole in a se­ries that was nearly de­cided Satur­day night. But then he cracked just a lit­tle bit, then cracked some more, and soon the Cap­i­tals were toss­ing pucks into his net on their way to a sea­son-ex­tend­ing 4-2 win at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter.

The Cap­i­tals’ crowd turned those four goals into mud they could sling in Fleury’s di­rec­tion. They filled the arena with a smooth, deep-throated chant of his name, singing the first syl­la­ble — “Fleur” be­fore punc­tu­at­ing each taunt with a drawn-out “eee.” And Fleury just kept bounc­ing his weight back and forth be­tween the pipes, wait­ing for a save to get his se­ries back on track.

“Just to­day, in gen­eral, prob­a­bly was my worst one in all the play­offs, I think,” Fleury said after the game. “I don’t know, I kind of want to for­get about it quickly and move on.”

This time last year, the Pen­guins were bury­ing the Cap­i­tals while Fleury sat on the bench. He lost his start­ing spot — the one he held while lead­ing the Pen­guins to a Stan­ley Cup in 2009 — to Matt Mur­ray, and it was Mur­ray who lifted the Pen­guins to an­other Stan­ley Cup. Fleury and Mur­ray then shared the net this sea­son, and the 22-year-old Mur­ray was lined up to be the start­ing goal­tender for this play­off run.

That was un­til he was in­jured while warm­ing up for the Pen­guins’ play­off opener against the Blue Jack­ets. The 32-year-old Fleury jumped back into net and paced the Pen­guins to a 4-1 se­ries win over Colum­bus, al­low­ing two or fewer goals in three of the games. He was even sharper in the first four games of this se­ries, not al­low­ing the Cap­i­tals to top three goals in any con­test.

He made 32 saves and al­lowed two goals in Game 1. He made 34 saves and al­lowed two goals in Game 2, stand­ing on his head while the Cap­i­tals pep­pered him with four point-blank at­tempts in a 20-sec­ond span. He made 36 saves and al­lowed two goals in Game 4.

And then he started to tear at the seams in Game 5, even if those in front of him shoul­dered re­spon­si­bil­ity. Fleury ul­ti­mately al­lowed four goals and made a se­ries-low 28 saves.

“We left Flower out to dry a bit,” Pen­guins cen­ter Nick Bonino said, re­fer­ring to Fleury by his nick­name. “He can only make so many saves.”

Bonino also ex­plained that the Cap­i­tals spent too much time in the Pen­guins’ zone. The Pen­guins were not lim­it­ing the Cap­i­tals to just one op­por­tu­nity, which proved es­pe­cially crit­i­cal after the Pen­guins car­ried a 2-1 lead into the third pe­riod.

The Cap­i­tals’ first third-pe­riod goal came when Nick­las Back­strom fired the puck past Fleury’s glove, and Fleury thought he should have made the save. The next two were a prod­uct of not clear­ing the puck after ini­tial chances: Evgeny Kuznetsov buried an odd-an­gle goal after Mar­cus Jo­hans­son’s shot was blocked, and Alex Ovechkin whis­tled a sec­ond-chance shot into the net 27 sec­onds later. By that time, the se­ries was al­ready swing­ing back to Pitts­burgh for Game 6 on Mon­day.

“I thought he was solid,” Pen­guins Coach Mike Sul­li­van said. “He’s made save after save for us. The goals they scored were good goals. I think we can do a bet­ter job in front of him.”

Ear­lier in the game, be­fore the Cap­i­tals’ late of­fen­sive out­burst, pock­ets of Pen­guins fans ser­e­naded Braden Holtby with that same brood­ing chant.

It came after Holtby al­lowed a Carl Hagelin goal in the first pe­riod, and again after Phil Kes­sel beat him on a power play in the sec­ond. But un­til any Holtby jeers could re­turn, the name was re­placed by Fleury’s, and it was the Cap­i­tals fans tak­ing their turn — and their build­ing back.

The swing showed how much this se­ries hinges on two play­ers’ abil­i­ties to block pucks. This time, Fleury found him­self on the wrong end of that.

“That wasn’t our best and it’s dis­ap­point­ing to not fin­ish it off,” Fleury said. “We had a chance at it, but I think every­one can agree that we’re go­ing to put it be­hind and move on.”

PHOTOS BY JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pitts­burgh’s Pa­tric Horn­qvist vie for a loose puck dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod Satur­day night. Ovechkin scored a third-pe­riod goal to put the Caps ahead by the fi­nal mar­gin, 4-2.

Pitts­burgh goalie Marc-An­dreFleury de­fends this shot by An­dre Bu­rakovsky but let in a se­ries-high four goals Satur­day night.

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