This was certainly not the return Marc-Andre Fleury was hoping for. Starting for the first time since March, before a home crowd that cheered every time he made a save, Fleury, uh...didn’t make a lot of saves.
Back in net after rookie sensation Matt Murray had a poor Game 4, Fleury’s return from his second concussion of the season ended in a 4-3 overtime loss and the Penguins a game away from elimination. The goals allowed don’t really tell the story—the winner was a classic unblockable ass-goal—but Fleury was increasingly shaky, giving up rebounds when he might’ve gloved the puck, being saved by his posts on shots that never should have made it that far, and if he wasn’t terrible, he certainly wasn’t very good.
Fleury admitted he was rusty:
“A little bit,” Fleury said of the rust. “It wasn’t the best I’ve felt in a game, but I’ve still been practicing a lot. I should be better. Especially on the first one. Tough to lose.”
“The first one” was probably the softest of the four goals allowed—a lapse, perhaps, in both positioning and reflexes. Up 2-0 13:15 into the second, Pittsburgh let the Lightning get right back into the game with two goals in 70 seconds. Alex Killorn scored the first, a wrist shot from a bad angle that he roofed short-side over Fleury’s shoulder. It was perfectly placed, but by dropping to his knees Fleury gave him a window in the first place.
After the Penguins regained a 3-2 lead just before the second intermission, they couldn’t make it stand up—for the first time all year. Pittsburgh is now 46-1 when leading after two.
A Nikita Kucherov wraparound tied things up with 3:16 left, but just 34 seconds earlier Ryan Callahan nearly did the honors. And man, this was Fleury at his shakiest:
Brian Dumoulin tried to absolve Fleury, talking about the Penguins’ defensive breakdowns in front of him, and that’s certainly a part of it—certainly Tyler Johnson shouldn’t have been all alone in front to deflect Jason Garrison’s shot in OT—but Fleury didn’t do anything to shut up those Monday-morning coaches who are questioning the decision to sit Murray. (I had and have my own opinions on Pittsburgh’s goaltending question, but no one gives a shit what I think.)
Coach Mike Sullivan was cagey when asked to evaluate Fleury’s night.
“I’m not going to assess his game right after the game,” Sullivan said. “It’s obviously a disheartening game we just lost. I’d rather digest it a little bit before I jump to any conclusions.”
For multiple reasons, I don’t think there’s any chance the Penguins start anyone other than Fleury in Tuesday’s Game 6 back in Tampa. And if Fleury’s going to get that triumphant homecoming everyone hoped last night would be, he and the Pens are now going to have to string together two good games, after losing two in a row for the first time since January. No one ever said this would be easy or clean.