PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Marc-Andre Fleury’s tenure in Pittsburgh officially came to an end Wednesday night when he was selected by the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.
It was certainly odd to see Fleury walk onto the stage last night in Las Vegas wearing a Golden Knights jersey. He even looked a little conflicted, but the crowd immediately embraced him. He’s got that effect on people. Pittsburgh should know, as fans have had the privilege of watching him since 2003.
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During his time in Pittsburgh, he provided many lasting memories.
Here’s a look at some of the best moments from Fleury’s career in Pittsburgh.
Draft Day & NHL Debut
Fleury was selected with the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. A few months later, he made his NHL debut on Oct. 10, at Mellon Arena against the Los Angeles Kings.
It was the season-opener for a Penguins team firmly in the middle of a rebuilding process. Expectations were understandably low heading into the season, but an 18-year-old Fleury gave fans a reason to think better times were on the horizon.
The game could have started better as Eric Belanger scored shorthanded just 38 seconds into the contest. It was the first shot Fleury faced in the NHL.
However, he would settle in and turned in an amazing 46-save performance. Arguably his best of the night came late in regulation when he stopped a penalty shot by Esa Pirnes.
While the Penguins lost the game 3-0, it was our first glimpse at what a young goalie in bright yellow pads was capable of.
Save On Karlsson
On Feb. 3, 2014, the Penguins played host to the Ottawa Senators. With the score tied 1-1 midway through the third period, Fleury came up with a save that many will never forget.
Erik Karlsson led the rush into the Penguins’ zone and dropped a pass to Clark MacArthur near the top of the left faceoff circle. Karlsson slipped into a soft spot on the opposite side of the ice and had a wide open net staring him in the face when he received a pass.
There was no reason to think that Karlsson wasn’t going to score as Fleury had squared up to MacArthur.
But, the athletic goaltender made one push to his left, flashed the glove and received quite the ovation from the home fans.
As Pens fans had come to expect, Fleury got up after the sprawling save and flashed that trademark smile. That’s going to be a theme for the rest of this.
As for Karlsson? He even dropped to his knees and looked to the rafters in disbelief. Sometimes that’s all you can do when a goalie makes an incredible save.
The Penguins went on to win the game 2-1 in overtime.
Game 7s Vs. Washington
What kind of list would this be without taking a look back at Fleury’s mastery of the Washington Capitals during Game 7 – twice!
The first instance came back in 2009 and Fleury was forced into action very early in the contest. Just three minutes into the deciding game, Alex Ovechkin found himself behind the Penguins’ defense and bearing down on Fleury.
Ovechkin threw a subtle shoulder fake at Fleury, but the goaltender wasn’t buying it. Fleury stayed with Ovechkin and robbed him with the glove. While Ovechkin wheeled away angry, there was Fleury smiling as usual.
From there, the Penguins took control, won the game 6-2 and marched on to win the Stanley Cup.
Flash forward to this past spring – another Game 7 against the Washington Capitals and another highlight reel save on Ovechkin.
With about four minutes left in the second period and the Penguins leading 1-0, Fleury made arguably the best save of the playoffs.READ MORE: Funeral Arrangements Made For Pittsburgh Police Sergeant Richard Howe
Ovechkin was all alone in the slot and ripped a one-timer that was labeled for the top corner. Fleury made a quick push to his right and made the save with the shaft of his stick.
Ovechkin could only stare at his skates pondering what could have been, yet again.
As for Fleury, once again he got up laughing and smiling. And once again, the Penguins would win the game and go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Fleury Handing Cup To Murray
There might not be a better example of what a great teammate Fleury is than what transpired during the most recent Stanley Cup celebration.
Fleury led the Penguins to nine wins in these playoffs before being replaced by Matt Murray in the Eastern Conference Final.
But, he was always chatting with Murray during commercial breaks and doing whatever he could to help the team win.
He knew his time in Pittsburgh was up when that final horn sounded and the celebration began in Nashville. He knew it was time to pass the torch to Murray, too.
As Fleury finished his lap with the Stanley Cup, he looked for the young goaltender in the crowd. Fleury skated right up to Murray, handed him the Cup and patted him on the chest.
It was an emotional moment for everyone.
“He’s been a special person for me, a huge mentor. The fact that he passed me the Cup there, my rank is way down at the bottom and I got it ahead of some of the other guys and that’s because Flower handed it to me. I have to say that’s one of the most special moments of my life,” Murray said.
It was exactly what you expect from a guy like Fleury.
Secret Service Save
Make no mistake, Fleury was immense in Games 6 and 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.
With everything on the line and a mere 6.5 seconds remaining on the clock, Fleury came up with two of the biggest saves of his life.
First, he stopped a Henrik Zetterberg shot through a sea of bodies and the rebound bounced right to Nicklas Lidstrom.
Lidstrom had plenty of net to shoot at, but Fleury shuffled over, threw himself at the puck, made the save and was immediately mobbed by teammates.
It’s a save that you’ll remember forever. You’ll remember the dread of seeing Lidstrom close in on the rebound and the euphoria of Fleury getting across in time to secure the Penguins’ first title since 1992.
You’ll remember where you were, who you were watching it with, how you celebrated – just everything about it.
We’re pretty sure Lidstrom won’t ever forget it either.
With that said, it’s hard to say goodbye to the fun-loving goaltender that captured a city and fan base for so long.
It won’t be the same next year without Fleury in net, making saves, rubbing and kissing his goal posts and constantly smiling behind the mask.
The shock of seeing Fleury in a different jersey will eventually fade, but we wish him nothing but the best.
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