With all the high powered offensive talent the Pittsburgh Penguins have, the crucial role Marc Andre Fleury plays in their success often gets lost in the shuffle. But as the 24 year old goaltender proved in last spring's playoffs and down the stretch this season, when he's hot, so are the Penguins.
And Fleury was very hot tonight against the Flyers, enough to be the real difference in a game that sent teams back to Philadelphia with Pittsburgh holding a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series. That's not an insurmountable deficit for the Flyers, but the Penguins have been nearly unbeatable for the last two months and have history on their side from winning three consecutive playoff series last spring when they took the first two games.
More important they have Fleury, who made 38 saves, several of the mind boggling variety to keep his team in the game long enough for the Flyers to ultimately beat themselves. Philadelphia did rebound from a lifeless opening game performance with the kind of solid effort they needed, but old habits die hard and the league's most penalized team did itself in by commmitting bad fouls at crucial times.
Philadelphia's worst transgressions took place late in the first overtime period. Mike Knuble negated a Flyers power play by taking an unncecessary cross checking penalty in front of Pittsburgh's goal, and then rookie Claude Giroux slashed the stick out of Chris Kunitz's hand 30 seconds later that gave the Penguins a two man advantage for nearly two full minutes and led to the 3-2 victory.
But Jeff Carter didn't do the Flyers any favors either when he caught for hooking in the third period -- credit Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal wiht a fine acting job on the play -- setting up a power play that Evgeni Malkin converted to send the game into overtime.
Still the Flyers could have, and maybe should have won this game. They were aggressive,physical, far better in the faceoff circle than in Game 1 and for the most part, dictated the tempo of the game. Philadelphia even held leads twice in the game. But the Flyers never could extend the lead to two goals, something that might have changed the complexion of things, because Fleury played bandit.
His most remarkable save came when stuck out his toe to deny Carter, who had a wide open side in the third period moments before Malkin's equalizer. But Fleury's stops on Carter and Arron Asham in the first period were highlight reel worthy as well. And he was just as solid in the overtime, turning back 10 shots before Bill Guerin became the hero by stuffing his second goal of the game past Flyers goalie Martin Biron on the short side.
It was one of the few misplays by Biron, who made 46 saves in an impressive performance that just wasn't enough to keep the Penguins from taking a stranglehold in the series.
And they weren't the only ones. Vancouver rode another command performance from goalie Roberto Luongo, who now has three shutouts in their last four games dating back to the regular season's final weekend, to take a 2-0 lead in its series with St. Louis. The Blues power play failed it again, although the unit only had four tries, and the Canucks took care of the rest by shutting down St. Louis five on five.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes got themselves back into their series and at least for the time being snapped out of the funk they have been in for the last 10 days, beating the Devils with a 2-1 overtime win in New Jersey. Eric Staal had an impactful night for the visitors, scoring one goal and creating the screen that helped Tim Gleason beat Martin Brodeur with the winning goal.