Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Power of a Goalie's Pads. . .

First of all, random time to start a hockey blog, I know. There are – at most - two games left in the hockey season. I get it. I mean, sure, I could wait til July 1st to talk about free agent movement. But then I’d miss getting the chance to give a young goalie some much deserved credit for his game last night. Thus. . .

I wouldn’t have called myself one of Marc-Andre Fleury’s haters. But I certainly wasn’t much of a supporter either. I felt that he, like so many other highly touted first round draft picks (in his case #1 overall 2003) before him, had merely fizzled before they ever really got the chance to fire up. (Which, given he's really not had a chance to establish himself in the league yet, was probably pretty unfair anyway).

However, two things make me re-think that position.

One – The theory that a goaltender’s pads can hold some mystical power over them and their confidence. After Marc-Andre Fleury came back to the Penguins in February, he had switched from his trademark and – quite frankly slightly ugly – bright yellow pads, to more subdued white ones. Well, his numbers after returning did not lie. His strong play in goal helped keep pace with Montreal for 1st in the East until the very end. (Montreal came away with the #1 seed - by 2 points - but I’ll keep the conversation on the team actually playing in the Final. Although I say that with all due respect to the storied Habs). Did his pads really make the difference? We might never be sure. But…don’t ever discount how a random act can have extreme consequences. If nothing else a more confident Marc-Andre Fleury stepped in.

Two – Last night’s game. Game 5. A game which, before it, I was all about ready to pack up and mourn the four month loss of hockey that is the off-season. Detroit going home for game 5. Very good record at home. And Pittsburgh hadn’t scored a goal in the other two games played at The Joe (shut-out 4-0 and 3-0 respectively) to start the Final. It seemed pretty open and shut. I figured, like so many others, the Stanley Cup would be awarded around 10:45 last night and I’d be in bed by 11:30. I never miss the handshakes, if I can help it. And a Cup celebration. Never. But collectively Pittsburgh’s players came into Detroit last night not prepared to close out the season. And they were led, in no small part, by their goalie.

Was it the greatest playoff performance by a goalie ever? Not even close. Was it the flashiest goalie show ever? I wouldn’t say so. But it got the job done. And it’s about getting the job done when winning is the only thing keeping you and your team from summer vacation. Fleury made some very impressive saves. Ones that back before the pad switch and the confidence boost, I didn’t think he had it in him to make. He kept his team not only in the game, but in control of the game. A big save can do that to you. Allow your team to force an overtime on a goal with 35 seconds to go in the game, in your season. And he did that. Marc-Andre did that. For that alone, when I’m asked to choose a side of hater or supporter for Marc-Andre (if anyone hypothetically were to pose this question that is), I’d have to say that last night played a large part in making me choose supporter.

He is young. He will not be perfect. But Marc-Andre Fleury had his night last night. And I applaud him for that.

For the record, I have picked Detroit and I am rooting for Detroit. But more than that, I wanted a long series, six or seven games. Thanks to last night, we have at least one more. I also wanted a competitive Final. Thanks again to last night, I think we have that as well.

Game 6 rolls tomorrow from the Steel City. I can’t wait. :)

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