The veteran goalie made 32 saves Wednesday in Game 2 of the Western Conference First Round to help the Minnesota Wild to a 6-2 victory against the St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center that tied the best-of-7 series.
“To get a win at home and have your fans cheering from start to finish, it was a good time,” Fleury said. “It was a fun game to play and I hope we have many more of those.”
Fleury’s had a lot of fun playing this game for 18 NHL seasons, and now he has another fond memory for the highlight reel. He has also planted a seed with the Blues about how difficult this series can be when it shifts to Enterprise Center for Game 3 on Friday (9:30 pm ET; TNT, SN360, TVAS2, BSMW, BSN, BSWIX).
Fleury has played 162 more Stanley Cup Playoff games than the goalie across from him, City Hussowho made 37 saves in a 4-0 win in his NHL postseason debut Monday but allowed goals on two of the first three shots he faced Wednesday.
Fleury is like a security blanket for his team. Wild coach Dean Evason called him predictable, the highest praise he has for any player.
The goalie will never get too high or too low. The game has humbled Fleury too many times.
[RELATED: Complete Wild vs. Blues series coverage]
The loss Monday, when Fleury made 27 saves, wasn’t fun for him or the Wild, but it wasn’t the sky-is-falling moment some perceived it to be, either. It was a desultory performance, for sure, one that sintered away the home-ice advantage the Wild had earned when they finished the regular season with 113 points, the most in their history, to take second in the Central Division, four points ahead of the Blues.
But Fleury turns despair into hope. It is one of his greatest gifts as a goalie — and a teammate.
He brings a positive attitude and an infectious smile with him wherever he goes. He exudes confidence and unflappability, no small thing for a team grasping for playoff swagger.
Yes, there were the expected calls from a nervous fan base clamoring for Minnesota to start Cam Talbot, the Wild’s No. 1 goalie before Fleury was obtained from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on March 21, in Game 2. After all, Talbot hasn’t lost since March 1, going 13-0-3 in 17 games (16 starts). Fleury had a sub-.900 save percentage in five of his six starts prior to Wednesday.
Evason heard the cries. Heck, he said they even invaded the sanctuary of the coaching room in the tense run-up to Game 2. The coaches were watching the earlier playoff games, looking for a respite from the unrelenting pressure, trying to be fans for a few minutes before their game started.
Instead, there were the TV analysts, breaking down Fleury’s “mistakes” in Game 1, advocating for Talbot, making compelling TV by doing their jobs.
“I’m glad I don’t [listen] because it’s like, what does it matter?” Evason said. “You know he’s going to respond properly. It’s what he does. It’s how he does it. That’s why we got him here. And he clearly is a world-class goaltender that’s won Stanley Cups.
“My gosh, if you don’t think he’s been through a game that maybe the odd bounce didn’t go our way, landed on their tape or whatever, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t bother him.”
Nothing bothers Fleury for long. That’s his secret weapon, the one that has allowed him to survive, and thrive, playing perhaps the loneliest and most mentally demanding position in sports.
He has won the Stanley Cup three times with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017) and reached the Stanley Cup Final two other times, with the Penguins in 2008 and with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in 2018.
He has endured public and painful breakups with the Penguins, the team to which he pledged his fealty as an 18-year-old after they selected him No. 1 in the 2003 NHL Draft, and the Golden Knights after being the face of the franchise during that magical first season only to be discarded this past offseason, traded to the Blackhawks in a salary purge.
Fleury said he was tough to fall asleep after Game 1, with him replaying the what-ifs that haunt every perfectionist. But he showed up at the rink Tuesday with a smile on his face and likely a prank on his mind. The one thing he didn’t do was listen to the negativity swirling around him.
Tunnel vision, in the most positive sense.
Fleury said of the root of his success, “I think stay away from media, stay away from social media, stay away from what people think or say and just come back ready to play the next game.”
The Wild had a lot of offensive help Wednesday to win Game 2, particularly from Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ekwho combined to score five goals.
Fleury was in the background, providing a resoluteness that was sorely needed.
He was throwing himself all over the ice, sometimes making the average save look spectacular and the spectacular ordinary. He was rubbing his post with his glove after one particularly stressful run of play, one of the idiosyncrasies for a goalie known to thank the inanimate objects surrounding him when he survives a hairy situation.
Afterward, the 37-year-old was patting Eriksson Ek on the leg and singing the praises of the 25-year-old forward as they shared the podium in the postgame media availability, further building camaraderie and confidence in a way that only Fleury can .
The goalie had to be good at times, most notably when the Blues were pushing hard, forcing the Wild to white-knuckle their way through a lull late in the second period and early in the third.
Fleury did what the moment demanded.
“I think everything went a little better for us as a team, and that makes me look better,” he said.
The opposite was closer to the truth.
Things went a little better for Fleury, as expected, and that made the Wild look better in Game 2 — and more dangerous going forward.