These playoffs belong to Marc-Andre Fleury
We have to talk about Marc-Andre Fleury again because, well, he was making things happen for the Vegas Golden Knights yet again on Wednesday night.
And by making things happen, we are obviously talking about unbelievable saves, stealing games, and helping to be one of the lead authors of one of the most absurd and unbelievable stories in NHL history.
Fleury stopped 33 shots (including 15 out of 16 in the third period) to help the Golden Knights pick up a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series.
They are now just two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final, if you can believe it.
[PHT’s Three Stars: Fleury, Marchessault lead Vegas to Game 3 win]
While Jonathan Marchessault scored two more goals, and James Neal had an eventful night coming back from an apparent head injury early in the game to score a goal, and a bunch of GMs continued to look bad for their expansion draft moves, this game was once again the Marc-Andre Fleury show.
Honestly, it was everything we have come to expect from what Fleury is as a goalie, as a player, and heck, even as a person.
There were incredible highlight reel saves, like the absurd sequence in the third period when he preserved Vegas’ one-goal lead by making back-to-back jaw-dropping saves on Mark Scheifele.
Fleury’s athleticism has been his calling card throughout his career, and it allows him (and sometimes even forces him) to make saves like those two.
There was also those moments where he showed that he basically just wants to have fun on the ice.
Like when he thanked his goal posts as only he can.
Or when he trolled Jets forward Blake Wheeler during that second period scrum -- the one that Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien had to break up by himself -- by flicking the back of his ear.
As if all of that was not enough, he also picked up an assist on Marchessault’s empty-net goal in the closing seconds to help put the game away.
Then after the game he showed what makes him a beloved member of whatever hockey community he is a part of when he met with the wife and children of late Humboldt Broncos coach and general manager Darcy Haugan, spending 20 minutes with them.
This night was the total Fleury experience in every way possible.
Overall, this entire season has been arguably the best hockey that he has ever played in his career. Given that he is already 11th on the NHL’s all-time wins list, already has his name on the Stanley Cup three times, and secured one of those championships with buzzer-beating save on one of the greatest players of all-time (Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom) that is not exactly a small accomplishment. If you want to quibble and point out that he was mostly a backup in the playoffs on the past two Stanley Cup winning teams he played for, you would not be entirely wrong. It is still worth pointing out the Pittsburgh Penguins team from a year ago probably loses in the first or second round without Fleury playing the way he did. So he was still a big part of the success.
But this season.
This season is something else entirely.
This is taking an expansion team -- a roster of players that literally did not exist at this time a year ago -- to a point where it is now just two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Six wins from potentially winning the whole thing. He is one of the driving forces behind this run.
It is not only a performance that is re-writing the narrative of his career as a postseason goalie, it might be the final push he needs to cement his status as a Hall of Fame goalie.
A lot of folks will pretty strongly argue that he has already done that in his career, but as I wrote back in February Fleury, to me, has always been a good, very durable goalie that has played for a long time with some incredible highs and some crushing lows.
A fine career, but is it one that is really worthy of the Hall of Fame? It could be -- should be -- up for some debate.
But what if he backstops a first-year expansion team to the Stanley Cup? Or, at the very least, simply to the Stanley Cup Final? If Vegas wins it -- still a big if at this point, but we’re just playing with hypotheticals here -- that would be his fourth. He would almost certainly win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. He will be in the top-10 in wins and probably somewhere in the top-five when his career ends. No matter your opinion of him as a goalie, no matter what you remember about his postseason meltdowns in the middle part of his career, the people that vote on the Hall of Fame would never, ever, keep that sort of resume out.
Even if this season does not result in a Stanley Cup it still might play a huge role in changing the way his career is looked at.
Right now he is no longer “playoff Fleury,” the goalie that melts down at the most inopportune time and submarines a potential championship team far short of its expectations.
He is now “playoff Fleury,” the goalie that is helping to carry a team to heights no one thought possible at the start of the season.