After two weeks without a game and one controversial tweet from his agent, Marc-Andre Fleury returned to the crease to lead the Vegas Golden Knights to within a victory of advancing to the Western Conference finals.
Fleury made 28 saves in the Golden Knights’ 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of their semifinal series on Sunday night in Edmonton, Alberta, as Vegas took a 3-1 series lead. It was Fleury’s first appearance since Aug. 15.
“Flower’s a big part of our room. Even if he’s not starting, he’s a huge part of our room. So when he gets in there, guys are pretty fired up,” said defenseman Nate Schmidt, who like Fleury was an original member of the 2017-18 expansion Golden Knights.
Fleury had started every playoff game in Vegas franchise history until this postseason. Goalie Robin Lehner, whom the Knights acquired from Chicago at the trade deadline, has started nine of the team’s 12 playoff games, posting a 7-2 record and a .921 save percentage. He has two shutouts, including the Knights’ 3-0 win in Game 3 on Saturday night.
The shift to Lehner was noted in a controversial social media post at the start of this series by Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh. who tweeted an image of Fleury being impaled by a sword in his back that had coach Pete DeBoer’s name written on it. Fleury addressed the controversy, saying “I think this was maybe a way to defend me in this situation. But I’m here to win with my team. To have success. That’s what matters.”
This was Fleury’s third appearance in the 2020 playoffs. He gave up four goals in 17 shots in a round-robin win over the St. Louis Blues. In Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks in the conference quarterfinals, Fleury was outstanding in stopping 26 of 27 shots in a victory. Like on Sunday night against the Canucks, the start against Chicago was part of a back-to-back games situation.
On Sunday, Fleury gave up a goal to Elias Pettersson on a power play in the first period, an even-strength goal to Bo Horvat and a power-play goal to Tyler Toffoli in the second period, which gave Vancouver a 3-2 lead heading into the third period. DeBoer was confident that the Knights would play hard in the final frame, not only to earn a win but to earn a win for Fleury.
“Guys have to want to play for you. I knew with Flower in there tonight that the guys would play hard for him. You could tell going into the third that they were going to make a push, that they didn’t like the spot that they put him in during the second period with some of the stuff we did,” DeBoer said. “He’s such an important part of our group, and the effort these guys gave in a back-to-back situation — three games in four nights — in the third period, it showed what they think of him.”
Fleury noted that effort.
“I thought the guys battled really hard, played really well in front of me. Fun to watch out there,” he said. “I felt those two weeks [without playing] early in the game. A little [jittery], was moving a little too much. In the second, I saw more shots and felt better. In the third, I felt back to normal.”
“Going into the third period, I don’t think guys were that happy with the way we played the last 10 minutes of the second. The message was if we can get to our game, we can help Flower get into the win category and help our team get a 3-1 lead,” Schmidt said.
There is another back-to-back scenario if the series against the Canucks goes to Games 6 and 7. Schmidt said the Knights have confidence in both goalies.
“You know that there’s no hiccup when he jumps into the net from [Lehner] the night before. Our group has always been a very close group. I think when a guy like Flower goes in and makes some really big saves … it didn’t look like he missed a step,” he said. “And when he’s on this game and is starting to be Flower, buzzing around and making big saves, it gets our bench fired up and just excited to go out and get one for him, you know?”
Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday night.