Marc-Andre Fleury will play for the 2018 Stanley Cup. And this time he will do so on the ice, not from the bench. The Vegas Golden Knights magical run fueled by the perpetually smiling goaltender Fleury continued to the Stanley Cup Final, Sunday when the Golden Knights beat the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Final. The Golden Knights not only won the Western Conference Final, but they also did it in only five games over the powerful Jets.
Fleury stopped 31 of 32 shots. Fleury didn’t outright steal the series, but he did take more from the Jets than one-armed bandits take from grandma’s fanny pack on a weekend in Vegas.
Winnipeg pressed and attacked, throughout the series. And it was Fleury who barricaded the net.
To add a little more salt to Pittsburgh Penguins fans wounds, Ryan Reaves scored the game-winning goal. The Penguins sent Reaves to Vegas in a three-way deal at the trade deadline in exchange for the Golden Knights picking up part of Penguins acquisition Derick Brassard‘s salary. Reaves is also from Winnipeg.
Fleury has been a constant highlight reel with Vegas. Beyond his diving saves on Jets center Mark Scheifele in Game 3, Fleury was caught giving Jets forward Blake Wheeler a “wet willy.” And, days after the Olympics, Fleury created endless replays and laughter when he imitated Curling sweepers to guide the puck into the trapezoid.
Did Marc-Andre Fleury just try to sweep a hockey puck like a curling stone in the middle of a game?! pic.twitter.com/Pwf2F51QcZ
— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) February 27, 2018
It’s been a storybook year for Vegas and Fleury, which will continue to the final stage.
One year ago, Marc-Andre Fleury was the sentimental story with the Penguins. “The Flower” was the Penguins best player in their Round 2 win over the Washington Capitals but was replaced in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final by head coach Mike Sullivan with Matt Murray. Fleury never again played for the Penguins, the team which traded up in the 2003 NHL Draft to select him first overall.
Murray carried the Penguins through the remainder of the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final.
Unlike 2016 when he started only one of the Penguins playoff games, last season Fleury took a generous skate with the Stanley Cup. He felt like he earned it. He told Pittsburgh Hockey Now that he “tried to focus on the first three rounds” when he skated with the Cup.
Fleury stood in the tunnel before exiting the ice to join the Penguins locker room celebration. He listened to the several hundred Penguins fans who remained at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville chant his name. In the bitter-sweet duality of that moment, Fleury knew what only a few others knew; he was on his way to Las Vegas in the Expansion Draft. And so he paused, soaking the last moments of his 13-year Penguins career.
Now, Fleury will again play for the Stanley Cup. This time, there will be no young franchise goalie to take away Fleury’s net. There will not be obstacles other than the opponent to hoist the Stanley Cup. This time a Stanley Cup victory would be with full knowledge and pride it was his team which won.
Fleury is far and away now the Conn Smythe favorite. Win or lose, Fleury may hoist the playoff MVP trophy.
Fleury is one of five former Penguins on the Golden Knights roster. In addition to Fleury and Reaves, James Neal, David Perron, and Deryk Engelland. Engelland is a Las Vegas resident who gave the emotional speech on opening night to honor first responders and victims just days after the Las Vegas mass shooting.
Engelland not only touched the Clarence Campbell Trophy, but he also grabbed it and skated with it, which broke long-standing tradition to avoid touching the trophy. The Penguins also broke tradition and touched their conference trophy in each of the past two years. Perhaps that was another Fleury contribution to Vegas.
There is certainly no shortage of Fleury contributions. Four more wins and he will walk with Vegas forever.