Thursday, July 29, 2010

NHL 2010 Playoffs: Flower Saves Game 3 for Penguins

From True/Slant on May 5, 2010:

Marc-Andre Fleury is not the kind of goaltender who pitches a shut out night after night. He’s no Patrick Roy, no Martin Broudeur, not even Grant Fuhr. Heading into Game Three in Montreal, he had allowed an average of more than three goals per game.

However, Fleury does have an impeccable sense of timing. He is to goaltending what Lucille Ball was to comedy. Her timing? Flawless. Try to find a mistake, a glitch, a missed opportunity to set up a joke or capitalize perfectly in Lucy’s chocolate shop conveyor belt antics or her Vitametavegamin pitch. You can’t. They are perfect, in execution, timbre and timing. Perhaps, if you culled over Lucy’s entire oeuvre, you’d find mistakes, the comedic equivalent of soft goals in the NHL, but when the vulcanized rubber hit the road, she was perfect.

And when the Penguins needed a flawless performance from the man they call Flower, he delivered. Big time. Fleury seems to have a sense of when in the ebb and flow of a game his team needs a big save from him. but this time, his team needed him to save the entire game, particularly that the Canadiens came out soaring.

The Habs played their game to a tee, putting together and executing the game plan they want and need to play to beat the Pens. They dictated tempo for the entirety of the first period. They pitched their tents right in front of Fleury and cycloned the puck into the offensive zone constantly.

Then, just four and one-half minutes into the game, the Canadiens went on the power play and cycled the the puck in front of Fleury pretty much for the duration of that two minutes. Orpik blocked a shot, then a Cammaleri shot went wide of the net (just), before Fleury turned away Brian Gionta and then made another save on another Gionta shot.

This was the game Montreal wanted, a low scoring affair, a game that was 1-0 the waning seconds. Low scoring games = Advantage Montreal. In their series with the Capitals, the average total goals scored in each of their four wins was four goals. That’s both teams. Whereas, in the three Washington wins, there was an average of nearly nine goals per game.

The Canadiens know how their bread is buttered. A low scoring affair, perhaps one with a one-goal differential, is what they were after. On home ice. In front of the best fans in the NHL.

The best chance was to score first and then fall into the rope-a-dope they’re becoming famous for. And for much of the game, Fleury was the only thing standing in their way.

Actually, that’s inaccurate. It’s not like Fleury withstood a constant barrage of pucks coming his way. First off, his defensemen were doing all they could in front of him to block shots and even Evgeni Malkin was credited with three blocks on the night, which thrills me almost more than his power play goal.

What Fleury faced, rather than a constant bombardment were several flurries of activity, separated by long lulls. I often think that it is harder for net minders to stay focused when they’re not in the action. The Canadiens got seven shots into the net in the first period, and then Fleury had to defend only four in the second period, with no seriously sustained rushes as he had seen earlier. It would have been so easy for him to lose focus, to let down, just a wee bit in the final period after Geno put a laser behind Halak just a minute in.

The Penguins, led by the diminutive Flower, regrouped, refocused and turned away opportunity after opportunity in the third period. That is one tough flower.

A flower by any other name would smell as sweet, or so the old saying goes. I’ll take my flower, the variety that only grows on a sheet of ice, the variety originally grown in Sorel, Quebec and transplanted to Pittsburgh any day.

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