Colin Dunlap: Win Over Sens Could Propel Fleury, Neal
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What happened on Monday night might be deemed more innocuous than momentous from most angles.
And that’s probably correct.
After all, wins in early-February, like the Penguins had as they bested the Ottawa Senators, 2-1, inside the CONSOL Energy Center are more than likely forgotten about come springtime.
But probably not this one for a couple of guys.
Probably not this one because of what happened for Penguins forward James Neal and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Let’s advance right to the very end of this game and look at it from Neal’s end, the sharpshooter who hadn’t been so sharp with his shot over the recent past.
Coming into this game unable to find the net in eight consecutive games for the Penguins, Neal netted the game-winner just about 2 minutes into overtime when he corralled in a rebound on a Robert Bortuzzo shot and calmly drifted with the puck until he saw an opening.
When Neal let fire, it was all over.
So too was the mini-slump Neal had found himself in.
That’s the kind of goal you remember if you’re a goal-scorer; the one that lifts you out of funk and with two games to play this week could just spark Neal, who has had a career marked by streaky play. Quite simply, it could just get a guy going who really needed to get going before the Olympic break hits.
And then there was that save Fleury made earlier in the game — the one some might consider the best of his career.
On the play — which came just above the midway point of the third period in a 1-1 game — Fleury flashed a brilliance that few in the game can.
Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson shot full-bore into the Penguins’ zone before dropping the puck off to Clarke MacArthur. From there, MacArthur then fed it back to Karlsson in the slot just to Fleury’s left and at point blank range all alone.
With the high, glove side his undeniable target, Karlsson released a zipping, rising shot that Fleury snagged with his glove high above his head as he butterflied his legs and went tumbling — face and shoulders first — to the ice.
It was robbery.
The CONSOL crowd went silly.
The television announcers were bewildered.
And all Karlsson could do was offer a bit of a chuckle.
You see, by Fleury keeping a puck out of the net and Neal finding it on this night, both players turned what was seemingly an innocent Monday matchup in the regular season into something that they, most likely, will remember for a long time.
And there’s more to it.
Both Neal and Fleury, not all that long ago, might have had dreams of representing Team Canada in Sochi in the upcoming Olympic Games. It didn’t come to fruition for either player, as they will be relegated to a few weeks of vacation when the NHL heads for a hiatus after this week.
No matter what either player says — or gracefully doesn’t say — about not being selected to Team Canada, it hurts for guys of their caliber to not find their way onto the club.
There is no telling, for certain, to where Fleury’s save and Neal’s goal propels the two individually over the next two games and then in through the Olympic break.
What seems clear from this vantage is this: There’s no question Fleury making that marvelous save and Neal scoring that slump-buster can only serve to propel the two positively.
It was exactly what both needed at exactly the right time.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.