Mr. Game One

It certainly wasn’t what anyone expected when Marc-Andre Fleury stood between the pipes to start Game One last night in PPG Paints Arena. But due to an awkward injury to Matt Murray in warmups, that’s exactly the way it panned out.

Does anyone really think the Penguins would’ve been better off with developing prospect Tristan Jarry in net in such a high stakes contest?

Absolutely not.

And that would’ve been exactly what happened if both Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were not incredibly good-hearted and unselfish human beings. There’s almost never a situation where a starting goaltender is okay with losing his job to a rookie. And you can probably count on one hand the number of times that a starting goalie has helped embrace and mentor his replacement, knowing damn well that his departure from the city he loved was imminent at season’s end.

Marc-Andre Fleury still wanted to stay in Pittsburgh knowing he’d be the backup. He chose to stay for one more run with his teammates that have been his second family for his entire NHL career.

Now, I’m not going to say that I’m the least bit happy thatĀ Matt Murray didn’t start Game One, because he would’ve been my choice.

However, what happened last night was exactly what Marc-Andre Fleury deserved.

For 12 years, the Flower was the backbone of the Penguins team, on and off the ice. There’s simply not a better teammate in the world than Fleury. He’s the all-time franchise record holder in games played by a goaltender (582), wins by a goaltender (318), and shutouts (37). Last night, symbolically enough, MAF tied Tom Barasso for first in Penguins history in playoff appearances with 101. Exactly where he deserves to be.

Fleury sat the bench the majority of the regular season, in an unfamiliar role. He never complained, he never wanted out, he just wanted what was best for the team.

But last night, when Mike Sullivan called on him to lead the Penguins quest to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, you better believe Marc-Andre Fleury knew that this was his night. Fleury knew that he had definitely made the right decision to stay, because the team he loves more than anything needed him now more than ever.

Fleury was incredible from the moment the puck dropped. The Jackets came out flying, but he stood tall and denied their first period efforts to keep the Penguins tied going into the second. The Penguins rode Fleury’s hot start and scored three goals in the second. Fleury blanked the Jackets again, keeping them scoreless through 40 minutes. It wasn’t just the fact that he had kept them out, but it was the way he did it.

He was playing like the Fleury everyone knew. Coming out to challenge the shooters, diving with his signature poke checks, flashing his always stellar glove hand, and stacking the pads in desperation chances to propel the Penguins to victory.

You could feel the confidence oozing out of the brick wall with number 29 tattooed on his back.

The team could feel it too.

Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 31 saves on 32 shots and he was deservingly named the first star of the game.

This is the type of win that reinforces how special this group of players is. Even if Matt Murray starts the rest of the playoffs, this wasn’t just any ordinary win. This was Fleury’s contribution to this team. A Pittsburgh legend, who stepped up when he was called upon and is going to go out like a hero because of it.

Last night, Marc-Andre Fleury was the talk of Pittsburgh one more time.

Last night, Marc-Andre Fleury was Mr. Game One.

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