Tuesday night would be anything but normal for Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. For the first time since being selected by the Golden Knights in last summer’s expansion draft, Fleury returned to the town he called home for 14 years.
We all know the story. Fleury was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the loaded 2003 NHL Entry Draft, went to two All-Star games, was named team MVP twice and won three Stanley Cups with the Pens in 2009, 2016 and, of course, 2017.
Fleury’s faced off against his former team once before — a 2-1 win over the Penguins in December. Tuesday night, though, he’d be playing in front of the fans that adored him (and still adore him) since the very first time he dawned the black and gold.
The Penguins displayed a video tribute for Fleury during a stoppage in play halfway through the first period. He responded accordingly.
The 33-year-old goaltender was then given a standing ovation by the crowd following the tribute. “Fleury” chants rained down onto the ice. It was a little hard to tell with his mask on, but it looked like Fleury may have shed a tear or two afterward.
As big a night as it was for Fleury, there was still a hockey game to be played. And just over three minutes into the contest, Fleury’s new team got on the board first.
William Karlsson one-timed a Jonathan Marchessault feed past Matt Murray, Fleury’s heir apparent, to give Vegas the 1-0 lead on the power play.
This would end up being the only goal of the first period, but Pittsburgh got a couple nice looks as well. Fleury just stopped them all.
The most notable chance for Pittsburgh came from Jake Guentzel, who got behind the Vegas defense on a breakaway. Guentzel tried to beat Fleury on the backhand, but he was having none of it.
After 20 minutes, Fleury stopped all 12 of Pittsburgh’s shots to keep Vegas ahead by a goal.
The second period, however, would be quite a different story.
Just after the game’s midway point, Ryan Reaves (of all people) took advantage of a giveaway in the defensive zone and beat Fleury glove side to cut Vegas’ lead in half.
Not long after Reaves’ tally, Ian Cole beat Fleury with a wrister from the slot to tie the game up.
That wouldn’t be the end of the Golden Knights’ miserable second period, though! Just over a minute later, Guentzel beat Fleury with a slapper from above the near faceoff circle to give Pittsburgh its first lead of the game. Not great!
Pittsburgh’s three unanswered goals in the second period gave them unwavering momentum going into the game’s final 20 minutes. When the third period finally got underway, they picked up right where they left off.
It all started with a miserable turnover by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the offensive zone. Phil Kessel intercepted Bellemare’s attempted cross-ice pass to Shea Theodore at the blueline, raced down the ice and sent a quick pass to Evgeni Malkin, who beat Fleury to give Pittsburgh the two-goal lead.
The onslaught didn’t end there. Just a few minutes later, Kessel scored the Penguins’ fifth unanswered goal to extend their lead to three goals.
Fleury was very unhappy about it.
Just eight seconds later, though, Ryan Carpenter scored his second goal in as many games to get Vegas back within two.
The slight momentum shift worked in Vegas’ favor. With a little under eight minutes to go in regulation, Marchessault beat Murray with a laser from a tough angle to make it a one-goal game. The Golden Knights weren’t dead yet.
In the game’s dying minutes, Fleury made a sick glove save on Carl Hagelin to keep Vegas’ hopes at tying the game up alive.
It would be too little too late, though. A penalty in the final minute of regulation helped Pittsburgh secure the 5-4 win over Fleury in his return to the Steel City.
Naturally, Fleury wasn’t too happy after the game.
Vegas may have given a nice effort toward the end, but they were simply outplayed by the defending Stanley Cup champs. Five unanswered goals speaks for itself.
As hard as it’ll be for Fleury, he’ll need to forget about this loss as soon as possible. The Golden Knights travel to Silicon Valley Thursday to take on the San Jose Sharks in what will be a hugely important divisional showdown. Vegas has a comfortable lead ahead of San Jose in the standings, but a loss to the Sharks would be a horrible way to end their six-game road trip.