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The Flower that Saved Pittsburgh; Pens Win 1st Round



Marc-andre Fleury Pittsburgh Penguins
Marc-Andre Fleury. By Michael Miller (Own work) | CC BY-SA 4.0

The chants reigned down as vindication for Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pittsburgh Penguins once beleaguered goalie. The crowd chanted “Fleury” often, but could have done so even more often. Fleury made 49 saves, many of the high danger variety and the Penguins escaped with a 5-2 win in Game 5.

The Blue Jackets, according to coach John Tortorella, had 30 scoring chances. The statistical avalanche was surpassed only by Fleury’s brilliance.

It was theft. Fleury stole Game 5. The win was Fleury’s 57th playoff win and surpassed Tom Barrasso for most in franchise history.

Game 5 turned on a 2:30 stretch early in the third period. It began with a Blue Jackets goal negated by goalie interference and ended with Scott Wilson‘s no look backhand goal, the Penguins second goal in 49 seconds. Here is the questionable call:

The Penguins scored on the ensuing power play, of course. Sidney Crosby scored a very Crosby goal with a perfectly placed top shelf snapshot. Then, as the Blue Jackets were reeling, Scott Wilson scored on a no-look backhand shot, 51 seconds later.

Just like that, the game went from possibly being tied, to a Penguins three-goal lead.

Refs Got it Half Right

Now, let me explain why the goal nullification was proper and debunk several arguments. Wennberg set a course to the goal, to disrupt Fleury. Fleury was beyond the crease, but in this case, that was irrelevant. Fleury established a goaltending position to address a shot. First and foremost, a goalie must be allowed to play the position. In other words, if the goalie is set for a shot, even beyond the crease, he may not be bowled over. The whistle will blow, every time.

Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella shouted and screamed that Wennberg had been hooked, and thus wasn’t responsible for the contact. In real time, and confirmed by replay, Scott Wilson’s hook did not impede or force Wennberg’s contact with Fleury. Wilson’s body position prevented Wennberg from changing course, but the Blue Jacket center was under his own control when he hit the goalie.

In short, the whistle and goal nullification were easily warranted. The Penguins power play… is debatable. With the benefit of replay, there should have been coincidental minors.

If Columbus got the break and tied the game, they likely would have won the game. And the series would have been very different.

Problems and Solutions

The problem was simple: The Penguins defense was not able defend their own zone or break out of it. That’s a big deal. The Penguins will not win another series, if this they do not figure out a way to clean up the blue line. In fact, Washington and Toronto could hang embarrassing numbers on the Penguins, unless changes are made.

Also, credit the Columbus Blue Jackets, who may have the best forecheck game in the NHL. The Blue Jackets took away the wall and the Penguins were clearly playing slow, or “thinking”, on breakouts. However, one defender did more favors than necessary: Brian Dumoulin.

Dumoulin was a revelation, last season. He was shepherded by the sage Ben Lovejoy for most of the season before being elevated to the top pairing with Kris Letang. Without Letang, Dumoulin has regressed. Blue Jackets skated past Dumoulin, and he was not good with the puck.

It isn’t inconceivable to expect Dumoulin to be a healthy scratch for one game, or more. Mark Streit is capable of a spot start. Streit is also capable of quickly moving the puck. The Penguins desperately need a change, and Streit is the quick and easy answer.

Olli Maatta and Ron Hainsey were also inconsistent in the series. The suffocating Blue Jackets forecheck was clearly in their head.

Perhaps one domino, Streit, will help the entire blueline.


Since Matt Murray has not resumed skating, Fleury likely starts Round 2, which will begin next Thursday, plus or minus one day.

However, even when Murray is healthy, it is hard to imagine removing Fleury. Paul Zeise of 93-7 the Fan asked a brilliant question: If the goalies were reversed, and the Blue Jackets had Fleury, who would have won the series? Yep, very simple answer–the team with Fleury.

Murray has a big game history against the Capitals and his icy demeanor would play well in a Verizon Center which routinely exceeds 110 decibels.

But, puck stopping is the game and there is little question Fleury is the better puck stopper, right now. The series win over Columbus is  Fleury’s first series win since 2014. If Fleury would like a second series win, he will need to be even bettter than he was in the first series.

The next opponent will be more offensively capable.

Cheap Plug:  Andrew Stockey and John Perrotto delivered awesome content for this weeks’s podcast. John broke down the Pirates lineup options and added more details to his ongoing payroll story payroll. Andrew is smooth as silk talking about Marte. We had a good time. It was good Pirates content. Have a listen by clicking here and share, please.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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