We won’t forget you, Flower.
None of us will forget you flicking your glove like a switchblade during Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, robbing Alexander Ovechkin on a breakaway. And how could any of us lose sight of you plowing across the crease, deflecting Nicklas Lidstrom’s snap shot in the waning moments of Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
Others might dismiss those moments in favor of your playoff struggles from 2010-13. They’ll remember you losing your job to Thomas Vokoun in the 2013 playoffs. They’ll call you flighty, leaky, shaky, rattled—a whole host of unflattering adjectives.
There’s no doubt you had your share of soft goals and flubs over the years, but a similar charge could be levied at the Penguins’ team defense during the latter period of the Dan Bylsma era. More than anyone else, you took the early playoff exits and the unsteady play to heart, because you weren’t just in it for yourself.
You’ve won the team “Player’s Player Award” in back-to-back seasons (2014-2015, 2015-2016), so you did not take these trials lightly or think solely about yourself.
We saw it too, after each goal during that 3 year stretch, where you’d skate a loop by the side of the net, shaking your head.
But that’s not the end of your story.
When the Penguins hired new goaltender coach Mike Bales in 2014, he helped bring a maturity to your athletic style. But unfortunately, as you succeeded, the team did not. The Penguins floundered, played pinball hockey under Dan Bylsma that often left you the lone man defending odd-man rushes. Then came Mike Johnston’s conservative approach, and you still had to stand on your head, because goal support was never in excess.
Yet during the 2015-2016 season, you stood in the gap from October through December, as the team careened of the precipice under Mike Johnston. When Mike Sullivan assumed command, you simply kept playing the role of consistent goaltender, posting a .921 save percentage.
And just when the team began to process Sullivan’s system and string together wins, you took a James Neal wrist shot off the mask and suffered a concussion. And the rest is history. Matt Murray won us a Stanley Cup, and suddenly, Murray, the goaltender of the future, became the goaltender of the present.
During the 2016-17 regular season, Sullivan established Murray as his starter, and you languished as trade rumors hung over your head like a hangman’s noose. You could have played the victim and tossed out a few snide remarks or backhanded compliments about your situation to the media. But you didn’t.
Your professional conduct reminded the fans and media that character does matter. You continued to mentor Matt Murray and carry yourself as the consummate pro.
And then, fifteen minutes before Game 1 of the first round, Matt Murray reinjured a torn hamstring during warmups, and you got your cold call.
In an ironic reversal, you were the stopgap behind a battered and underwhelming defense. You made 49 saves in a Game 5 win, which eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets. For the duration of the series, the Penguins spent a considerable amount of time hemmed in the defensive zone, but you didn’t get rattled.
The same could be said of the Pens’ second round series against the Washington Capitals. Our defensemen could not break the puck out of the defensive zone consistently, and again, you had to make more than your fair share of saves. The series went to seven after a Game 6 thrashing at the hands of the Capitals. But in Game 7, you posted a shutout, and for the first time in the playoffs, the Penguins looked like the Penguins of old.
We won’t forget the save you made (again) when Alex Ovechkin could have tied the game at 1. With the knob of your stick, you deflected Ovechkin’s blistering snap shot into the stands, then rubbed the shaft of your stick as if you were racking a shell in a Smith & Wesson double-barreled shotgun.
So we advanced into the Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators. It looked as if you would be able to write your Hollywood script—the snake-bitten goaltender gets his redemption and glory in the Stanley Cup Final.
But that was not to be.
You gave up four goals in Game 3, and the team couldn’t have looked worse around you. Head Coach Mike Sullivan and the rest of the coaching staff (Rick Tocchet & Jacques Martin) opted to go with a healthy Matt Murray, who was the starter going into the playoffs.
We won the series and won the Stanley Cup, and no doubt it was agonizing, even infuriating, to watch from the bench once again, knowing that you contributed 9 of the necessary 16 wins to capture the Stanley Cup. No doubt you were displeased and thought you earned the chance to finish out the playoffs as starter.
Yet you remained a good teammate, because your “the Flower,” the guy whose team selected you for the “Aldege ‘Baz’ Bastien Memorial Good Guy Award” twice.
You put the team before your feelings, and never generated controversy, no matter what your opinion might be.
Good guys are supposed to do good things, so after you took a well-deserved lap with the Stanley Cup, then handed it to the only teammate that a good guy in your position would hand it to—Matt Murray, the kid who played so well when you got injured, that the team won a Stanley Cup, then another one.
We won’t forget that image. Fleury and Murray. Fleury passes the Cup to his successor.
And now you’ll move on, because that’s what you want; that’s what you’ve earned. Since you became the starter in 2005-06, you’ve been our good guy and good goaltender. Now, you’ll be Las Vegas’s, a good guy in Sin City.
And there’s one image I won’t forget of you, Flower. It’s in the handshake line after Game 6 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, after the Red Wings took the Stanley Cup in our building. At ten years old, nearly shedding tears because the Pens were so close to forcing a Game 7, I remember hearing the Pittsburgh crowd chant through the television, “Fleury! Fleury! Fleury!”
That nearly captures you. You often played your best, but it was as if the stars refused to align for you. A concussion sent you to the sidelines, and a younger, less-costly goaltender won two cups in your wake. Sure, people will quip, “That’s the business,” and shake their heads solemnly, but good guys like you don’t make it easy to see you go.
Your loyalty enamored a lot of Pittsburgh, and watching you play in another uniform will evoke a lump in Pittsburgh’s throat and more than a few memories.
So here’s a better image, a proper one for us to remember you by. It’s you hoisting the Stanley Cup after Game 7 of the Finals. Only a year after Chris Osgood hoisted the Cup in your building, you got to do the same in Joe Louis Arena.
We won’t forget you, Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flower, the prankster, the goalie swimming in the blue paint, lunging, darting, snatching Ovechkin’s one timer from the left dot—that’s who you’ve been for the fans.
Here’s the final image. Josh Yohe, Penguins beat writer for DKPittsburghSports.com, tweeted on Thursday, “When locker clean out day was over, every member of the media lined up to shake Marc-Andre Fleury’s hand. He’s in a class of his own.”
So thank you, Flower. How could we ever forget you?
Fleury! Fleury! Fleury!
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.