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