NEW YORK (AP) - Before this Eastern Conference semifinal series, the one spot where the New York Rangers seemingly had a clear advantage over the Pittsburgh Penguins was in goal with Henrik Lundqvist.
Suddenly Pittsburgh is dominating all over the ice, and its 2-1 series edge feels a whole lot wider.
“He is 10 out of 10,” defenseman Kris Letang said Tuesday. “For the guys in the dressing room, Flower has always been our go-to guy that shows up every night and gives us a chance to win.
“Since the playoffs began, he has been our best player.”
Letang is hardly alone in that assessment.
Since a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1, Fleury has been perfect. He stopped 22 shots in Pittsburgh’s 3-0 home win in Game 2 on Sunday and followed that with a stellar 35-save performance in the Penguins‘ 2-0 victory at Madison Square Garden on Monday.
“I felt good out there. Confident,” Fleury said. “We didn’t want to give them much, and we didn’t.”
Forget about the guy who faces constant criticism, or the one who seemed to be crashing and burning during the first round against Columbus when no leads were safe.
“I have won a lot of hockey games with Marc-Andre Fleury in net,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “There are questions from when he was 17, 18, whatever. They have been asking those questions for a long time, and he has done nothing but answer those questions.”
That wasn’t the case a year ago when Fleury had a miserable first-round series against the New York Islanders and lost his starting job to veteran Tomas Vokoun.
Vokoun went 6-1 after taking over and led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals, where they were swept by the Boston Bruins.
After a summer away from it all, and time with a sports psychologist, Fleury regained his starting spot. Now he is the biggest reason the Penguins are two wins away from a return trip to the conference finals.
“To see your goalie confident like that, on top of his game, you see everyone is calm,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, whose first goal of the playoffs made it 1-0 in Game 3. “(The Rangers) get a chance, he makes a save, and we move on.”