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PHT’s Three Stars: Game 2 rebound for Fleury, Golden Knights

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1st Star: Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Other than a power play goal, Fleury rebounded from a Game 1 loss to backstop the Golden Knights to a 3-1 series-evening victory in Game 2 over the Winnipeg Jets. Fleury finished with 30 saves, including 3-1 in the final period to halt any thoughts of a comeback. The Golden Knights have not lost consecutive Fleury starts since March 14-16.

2nd Star: Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

Marchessault picked up his fifth and sixth goals of the playoffs in the Game 2 win. His first goal extended the Vegas first period lead to 2-0 and his second tally was even bigger. Kyle Connor had cut the Jets’ deficit to 2-1 early in the third period, but 1:28 later it was the Golden Knights forward finishing off a lovely sequence to bring back the two-goal lead.

[Vegas’ Tomas Tatar makes most of opportunity in Game 2]

3rd Star: Nate Schmidt, Vegas Golden Knights

Leading all Vegas blue liners with 23:17 of ice time, Schmidt also blocked two shots and picked up this assist by clearing a loose puck in Fleury’s crease.

Highlight of the Night:

Marchessault’s second goal is a fun one to watch:

Factoid of the Night:

Tuesday’s schedule: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, Capitals lead series 2-0)

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

‘Flower’ blossoms: Fleury back to being great playoff goalie

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Anyone who has played with Marc-Andre Fleury can tell he’s dialed in by watching his mannerisms.

Last year, he rubbed the shaft of his stick after making a save with it on Alex Ovechkin. This year, he continued a career-long tradition of rubbing the post as a sign of appreciation for keeping a puck out.

”That’s when you know he’s in the zone,” Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta said.

Fleury is in one of the best zones of his career in the playoffs with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who have followed up a magical inaugural season with a trip to the Western Conference final. The goaltending of Fleury is the biggest reason they’ve gotten this far and is a continuation of his remarkable playoff reputation rehabilitation.

After taking the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 and winning it all in 2009, Fleury lost four of the next five series he played and each postseason posted a save percentage under .900. He has since gotten his groove back, helping the Penguins win the Cup again a year ago, and now leads the NHL playoffs with a 1.53 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and four shutouts.

”I don’t think it was anything physically that he changed,” former Penguins teammate and current Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”It was all confidence-driven. He’s always been a guy who’s really competitive and really loose at the same time. I think it was just confidence. I think he needed a fresh start. Maybe he just needed a clean slate, and you perform better when you’re more appreciated.”

It’s impossible not to appreciate the impact ”Flower” has made in the desert as the face of a new franchise as he went 29-13-4 with a 2.24 GAA and .927 save percentage for Pacific Division-winning Vegas. The fresh start might have rejuvenated Fleury more than a decade into his career, but his bounce-back in becoming a great playoff goalie again is six years in the making.

The low point came in 2012. Fleury allowed 26 goals over six games to Philadelphia in a first-round exit. The next playoffs, backup Tomas Vokoun started more games, and it was fair to wonder if Fleury had lost it.

”You learn from losing,” Fleury said Wednesday. ”You learn from tough times and pressure and stuff like that. It made me a better goalie from it.”

Now-Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen was there for some of the struggles but didn’t level them all on Fleury. By 2014, he noticed a different goalie.

”There was a period of time there where maybe (it was) not entirely his fault, a few things went wrong and it snowballed on him and he had a tough go there, I think, mentally for a couple springs,” Niskanen said. ”But by the time of my last year there he was really good again.”

The scars of another second-round exit led to more blame for Fleury, who was scapegoated for a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not doing more after the Cup in 2009.

”Sometimes it’s the way your team plays in front of you,” said Penguins winger Carl Hagelin, who beat Fleury with the Rangers in playoff series in 2014 and 2015. ”Sometimes, like any other player, you might have a bad series or a bad playoffs and I think for a goalie if you have that, people are going to be all over you.”

Following a forgettable first-round loss to Hagelin and the Rangers in 2015, Fleury had one of his best regular seasons. But he was nevertheless replaced as Pittsburgh’s playoff starter by Matt Murray on the way to the Cup in 2016.

Before he played a substantial role in the Penguins’ second consecutive title run, Fleury agreed to waive his no-movement clause to go to Vegas in the expansion draft. Golden Knights general manager George McPhee, whose 2009 Capitals lost to Fleury in the second round, said Dave Prior was insistent on adding Fleury because the veteran goaltending coach felt there was more improvement to be made in his game.

”He obviously studies goaltenders all around the league and looks at the way that they’re playing the game,” McPhee said. ”He was excited and he really advocated for him in our meetings and thought that he could make him even better than he’s been. We like the calming effect he has on this team. When he plays, he’s really good when you need him the most. Needless to say you don’t get to the third round in this league unless you got a goaltender that’s playing well.”

Fleury will be playing in the third round for the fifth time in his career, a testament to the 33-year-old’s willingness to adjust as he has gotten older, including eating the right food, training meticulously and allowing his body to recover.

”When you’re young, you eat whatever, you never hurt, I never stretched, I could do the splits, it was easier,” Fleury said. ”Now I got to do more to maintain that flexibility and comfortness in the net. The older you get, things tend to linger around longer and you got to find ways to feel loose and feel good when games come around.”

Players are rarely worried about Fleury being tight. Even when Murray took his starting job, Fleury didn’t let it affect his mood at the rink.

”For him it definitely wasn’t easy because I’m sure he knew how he good he is and everybody else knew how good he is,” Maatta said. ”He still kind of kept showing up smiling and being an awesome teammate all the time even though he was probably in a tough spot.”

The laughs during the bad times have endeared Fleury to teammates who watch his playoff success with Vegas with great joy.

”Cares about the group, has fun at the rink, competitive as heck, cares about the right things,” Niskanen said. ”It’s not surprising at all that he’s done as well as he has there. It’s surprising how well the team has done but not him specifically. He’s a really good goalie and a perfect fit for them.”

Freelance reporter W.G. Ramirez in Las Vegas contributed.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

PHT Morning Skate: Marc-Andre Fleury meets Bark-Andre Furry

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• Golden Knights goalie coach Dave Prior has helped take Marc-Andre Fleury‘s game to the next level this season. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Speaking of Fleury, he got to meet a four-legged friend named Bark-Andre Furry. The Golden Knights netminder even signed the dog’s tiny jersey. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• This edition of the Washington Capitals has an opportunity to redeem themselves for all their years of playoff futility. (Japers Rink)

• This is as close as Barry Trotz has ever been to winning a Stanley Cup, but he still doesn’t have a contract extension from the Capitals. (Washington Post)

• Whether they win or lose, the Tampa Bay Lightning have different variations of a shake after every game. These shakes help the players drum up more energy, especially during a difficult playoff series. (Tampa Times)

• The ESPN roundtable looks at different reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning will make it back to the Stanley Cup Final. Whether it’s their top line, their depth up front of their stacked defense, the Bolts have a good shot at advancing. (ESPN)

Tyler Myers and Quentin Grimes can become the first set of brothers to suit up in the NHL and NBA. Myers is currently playing with the Winnipeg Jets, while Grimes is heading to Kansas to play college basketball. He could be in the NBA in the next year or so. (USA Today)

• Say what you want about commissioner Gary Bettman, but this postseason has shed even more light on how successful some of the expansion franchises he’s brought to life have been. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

• Don Waddell was working as a scout in Pittsburgh when he received a phone call that would change his career significantly. Taking a job in Carolina proved to be a very wise decision. (Raleigh News & Observer)

• If the Islanders decide to bring in Lou Lamoriello, that would likely trigger a chain of significant moves across the organization. (SNY.tv)

• Two-time Olympic gold medalist Cassie Campbell-Pascall will be donating her brain to concussion research. “I loved playing sports and have no regrets, but having had some concussions I would like to make sure that future generations are protected as much as possible while still being able to play sports at all levels.” (The Ice Garden)

• Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand has put together some solid performances for Denmark at the World Hockey Championship. (1st Ohio Battery)

• After a disappointing 2017-18 season, the Calgary Flames will have some interesting decisions to make when it comes to their restricted and unrestricted free agents. (Flames Nation)

Chris Tanev is arguably the Canucks’ most important defenseman. Unfortunately, he played just 42 games this season, so they have to find ways to keep him on the ice. Vancourier looks at eight (funny) ways to keep him healthy. (Vancourier)

• Here’s a Q & A with the founder of the “Hockey Fights” website. He talked about NHLers using his website as a resource, where fighting in hockey is heading and much more. (Sporting Ground)

• Up top, check out the highlights from Game 7 between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators.

MORE:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Fleury running away with it

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A lot has changed in the week since our first Conn Smythe Trophy watch, and by a lot, I mean a couple of the top contenders have been completely eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With Boston’s loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, bringing their season to an end in Game 5, their duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand gets removed from the list, as does San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones after they were the latest team to lose to the buzzsaw that is the Vegas Golden Knights.

The new leader in the Conn Smythe race should be pretty obvious at this point, while we also have a couple of new names to consider.

Let’s take a look at this week’s update.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. If Fleury isn’t the front-runner for the award right now then just what exactly are we doing? Along with a series-clinching shutout in each of the first two rounds he has a league leading .951 save percentage this postseason and four shutouts. The Sharks did get to him a little bit more than than the Kings did in round one, scoring at least three goals in four of their six games, but he has still been mostly great for the Golden Knights. This is the best hockey he has ever played in the NHL.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He has always produced in the playoffs. He is once again producing in the playoffs and is having some signature moments along the way that will stand out … especially if they finally conquer the beast that has been the second-round of the playoffs. After helping lead the Capitals back from a 2-0 series deficit in the first-round, he has come back in the second-round with six point in the first five games of their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That includes a last-minute game-winning goal in Game 3 of the series and setting up the game-winning goal with five minutes to play in Game 5.

3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He is doing everything he can to keep the Penguins’ quest for a three-peat going. And by everything, I mean almost literally everything. Through the first five games of the second round the Penguins have scored exactly one goal without Crosby on the ice. He has 19 points in 11 games, already matching his point total from his 2015-16 Conn Smythe run. The Penguins might lose, but it won’t be because of him.

4. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets. Perhaps the most underrated top-line player in the NHL. He has nine goals in the Jets’ first 10 playoff games and has recorded at least two points in six of their past seven games entering play on Monday night.

5. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. His point production slowed down a bit in round two but he still has 12 in the first 10 games for the Lightning and already three game-winning goals (most in the NHL at this point). During his career he has been one of the best postseason scorers in the league and is a big reason the Lightning have been in the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four years.

6. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets. Byfuglien has been an absolute monster for the Jets this postseason averaging more than a point-per-game from the blue line, logging more than 26 minutes per night, throwing some devastating hits, and helping the Jets to a 15-6 goals advantage when he has been on the ice during even-strength play. He has stepped up in a big way for a Jets blue line that has been shorthanded at times this postseason.

7. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. Remember when this guy didn’t start the playoffs? Holtby has the second-best postseason save percentage in NHL history and has been outstanding for the Capitals since getting his starting job back in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington is 7-2 this postseason with him in net while he has a .924 save percentage. Goaltending has been a huge advantage for the Capitals in the second round.

8. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. He is the NHL’s leading goal-scorer and point producer this postseason and along with Crosby is trying to carry the Penguins through their second-round series against the Capitals. Maybe he could (or should) be higher. But as I said a week ago trying to separate his production and Crosby’s production is tough. Have to give the edge to the player that is carrying the play and that still seems to be Crosby.

 

9. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators. The Predators are such a deep, balanced team that can get contributions from all over their lineup that there really isn’t a clear-cut Conn Smythe favorite for them at this point. Forsberg has been consistently productive for the Predators, is their go-to-player offensively and has a couple of highlight reel plays on his postseason resume at the moment.

10. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. In all honesty he may have been the Lightning’s best player in their second-round series win over the Bruins. This is what makes the Lightning so dangerous. Not just the fact they have superstars at the top of their lineup, but the fact their farm system keeps producing top-line talent. Point is just the latest in the line of homegrown stars.

Related

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his life
Alex Ovechkin is putting the Capitals on his back
The Penguins’ top line is doing all of the heavy lifting
Byfuglien continues to be key difference-maker for Jets

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Fleury magic, Point breaks Boston

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Two games, two eliminations

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Bruins 1 (Lightning win series 4-1)

The Bruins scored the first goal of Game 5, but that ended up being their final tally of 2017-18. Brayden Point & Co generated three unanswered goals to send Boston packing. Despite being a game behind the other series, the Lightning ended up advancing before everyone else. This series stands as a helpful reminder that the Bolts are one of the true powers in the NHL, and they figure to give the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins all they can handle.

Vegas Golden Knights 3, Sharks 0 (Golden Knights win series 4-2)

Here’s a bold take: the Sharks won’t hate this post more than they hated that post in Game 6.

San Jose was snakebitten for all of Game 6, as Marc-Andre Fleury made all 28 saves for his fourth shutout of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the posts/crossbar did the rest. Jonathan Marchessault continued his line’s strong run with the 1-0 goal, which ended up being the game-winner. Nate Schmidt really took the air out of the Sharks with his unusual 2-0 goal, while an empty netter made it automatic. After carrying stretches of play in Game 6, the Sharks largely went out with a whimper during the third period.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights – So far, “MAF” is putting together a truly spellbinding postseason run. It gets more impressive when you consider the fact that he’s carrying over this work from what was arguably the best regular season of his vaunted career.

By stopping all 28 shots to close out the Sharks, Fleury is now 8-2-0 with an absurd .951 save percentage during this postseason run. Whether it’s the Jets or Predators next round, those high-powered offenses face a challenge in trying to trample “The Flower.”

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning – Fleury is grabbing the headlines, and with good reason, but don’t sleep on a goalie whose honesty about fatigue drew a lot of attention. Vasilevskiy sure seems like he’s playing like an energized goalie.

The Bruins have the firepower to make plenty of netminders look bad, yet Vasilevskiy held strong, including stopping 27 out of 28 shots in Game 5.

His numbers look elite once again. If you’re the Capitals, avoiding a Game 7 against the Penguins might also keep him from being that much more refreshed.

3. Nate Schmidt, Golden Knights – Brayden Point deserves an honorable mention for completing a great series against the Bruins, and also teaming up with Keanu Reeves to inspire this post’s headline.

Schmidt gets the slight edge for the third star, though. His 2-0 goal wasn’t just unusual; it also seemed to sap the Sharks’ energy. He grabbed an assist on an empty-netter. Beyond that, Schmidt generated a +3 rating, two shots on goal, and two blocked shots in 24:02 time on ice.

Factoids

Fleury continues to put together some really impressive milestones.

The Lightning are no strangers to the third round:

Tough stat for the Bruins.

Monday’s games

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 6, 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets, Game 6, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.