PITTSBURGH — It was quite a scene in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night when Marc-Andre Fleury, one of the most beloved players in Penguins history, made his return to the city for the first time as a visiting player.
It probably wasn’t the night Fleury had planned for his return, giving up five goals on 38 shots in a wildly entertaining 5-4 loss to the Penguins, but a standing room only crowd spent much of the night — from the start of warmups to his announcement as the third star of the game — showering him with cheers, thanks and appreciation for what he did for the team over the previous 13 years.
During the first TV timeout in the first period they roared during an extended tribute video and then kept cheering for so long that the linesman actually delayed for a minute before finally dropping the puck to continue the game.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Fleury after the game when asked about the night. “In warmup I had goosebumps. Before the game, people had signs and kind words. It’s a night I won’t forget. Except maybe the score.”
“It was just amazing, the support I’ve gotten over the years here is just incredible. I thank everybody for all these years and once again showing up tonight with such great support.”
Here is a look at the tribute video the Penguins put together to welcome back Fleury.
Fleury was obviously a bit emotional during the video and said after the game he was just glad he had a mask on.
“They always do a good job with these (videos),” he said. “A lot of good memories. A lot of good years. It just brought some fun memories.”
Early on it looked like it was going to be Fleury’s night as the Golden Knights jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals from William Karlsson and James Neal, one of the four former Penguins that currently play for Vegas.
Fleury also made a handful of big saves, including robbing Jake Guentzel on a breakaway.
But in the second period the Penguins’ firepower finally became a bit too much. A Ryan Reaves goal opened the floodgates, and then Ian Cole, Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all followed to help the Penguins score five consecutive goals.
“They’re a very talented team, very fast, and able to create a lot of space and time for themselves to get some goals,” said Fleury.
“Sometimes I caught myself thinking a little too much about their tendencies. Hopefully it will get easier to play them as it goes on.”
Kessel and Malkin nearly had a couple of more goals as Kessel ripped two shots off the post early in the game, while Fleury was able to stop Malkin with one of his patented poke checks on a second period breakaway.
“I had Geno on a breakaway and got a poke check in there so I let him know,” Fleury said with laugh after the game when asked if there was any friendly trash talk during the game. “Phil wanted one and hit the post a few times and kept telling me he was coming back. He did get one.”
Fleury said the entire day was a different experience for him but that he now knows what it’s like to be other goalies in the NHL having to play in that building against that team.
“It was so different to be in this locker room and going on the ice in another jersey and seeing them coming at me,” said Fleury.
“Now I get to see what the other goalie faced all these years. It was a lot going on, lots of emotions, a little bit of stress, but it was worth it.”