When Sidney Crosby was ruled out for Game 4, it was presumed that somebody would need to step up in his absence.
It turns out all they needed was for Marc-Andre Fleury to continue playing out of his mind — and boy did he deliver.
Fleury was once again the story for the Penguins, who held on for a 3-2 win over the Capitals on Wednesday to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The Penguins had no business winning this game, despite jumping out to an early lead on Patric Hornqvist’s breakaway goal and adding some insurance in the second period when Dmitry Orlov redirected Jake Guentzel’s pass into his own net.
But it was all Capitals after that. Washington outshot Pittsburgh 26-10 after the first period (38-19 overall) and tied the game midway through the second after scoring two goals 72 seconds apart. Justin Schultz rifled a power-play goal past Holtby minutes later to put the Penguins back on top and Fleury shut the door the rest of the way, finishing with 36 saves — a number of them of the larcenous variety.
Like this gem on Tom Wilson…
Marc-Andre Fleury robs Tom Wilson to keep the Penguins lead intact!
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) May 4, 2017
Or this sequence late in the first period …
— NHL (@NHL) May 4, 2017
And this desperation pad save on Lars Eller with time winding down in the third.
Fleury with a great save to preserve the lead pic.twitter.com/Bf6L7nM3BI
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 4, 2017
But that’s what the Penguins have come to expect from Fleury this postseason. As good as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Guentzel have been for the Penguins up front, Fleury has without a doubt been the team’s MVP and the best story in the NHL this spring.
The Penguins have been outshot in eight of their nine playoff games, including all four against the Capitals, yet are one win away from returning to the Eastern Conference final thanks to Fleury’s play between the pipes.
Not bad for a guy who had one of the worst seasons of his career, lost his starting job to a (really good) rookie and was expected to be dealt at the trade deadline.