Three goals in five minutes sparked sing-song chants of “FLEU-RY! FLEU-RY!” and might’ve planted enough of a seed of belief for the Washington Capitals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
All series the Capitals had struggled to beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but he allowed four goals on 32 shots in the Penguins’ Game 5 loss Saturday night in probably his worst performance of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh still leads the series 3-2 going home for Game 6 Monday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN), so the pressure remains on Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington, but finally cracking Fleury could make all the difference.
“Some of the things that we’re trying to do are starting to have an effect,” coach Barry Trotz said on a conference call Sunday. “It doesn’t hurt the psyche, that’s for sure, because I think it takes a little frustration out of your game if you finally crack through a little bit.
“We were sort of stuck in that two- and three-goal area and in a very important moment in the third period obviously in an important game, our guys delivered against him, so I think that gives us a boost of confidence.”
Fleury had stopped 133 of 142 shots through four games, making a mockery out of the core fundamental of hockey that having the puck more and putting it on net leads to success. He was the much hotter goaltender than reigning Vezina Trophy winner and again finalist Braden Holtby, who outdueled him in an emotional Game 5 as the Capitals avoided elimination.
“We’re still down,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “We take good moments of the game and move forward.”
The best moments were the times they got the puck past Fleury, the 2009 Stanley Cup winner who was Matt Murray’s backup on the Penguins’ title run a year ago and is only starting because of the 23-year-old’s injury. If Fleury has sprung a leak, the Capitals have the talent from Ovechkin down to make him pay.
“He’s been standing on his head this whole series,” said Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky, who scored his first goal of the playoffs Saturday. “We’ve been out-chancing them almost every game and he’s been saving them. So he can’t do that this whole series. If we keep just pounding pucks … he’s going to get tired.”
Trotz said he believes Fleury will continue to play well, and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had no issues with the veteran’s showing in Game 5.
“I thought he was solid,” Sullivan said. “He’s made save after save for us. The goals they scored were good goals. I think we can do a better job in front of him.”
All series the Capitals have been aiming to play better in front of Holtby, who had his best game of the series Saturday in stopping 20 of 22 shots. For them to force Game 7 on Wednesday, they’ll need Holtby and the rest of the stars to continue to be the best players on the ice.
“It doesn’t matter, leaders or not leaders, top six, bottom six,” said Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored the Game 5 winner.
“We have to play all together like a team and we did (Saturday). We talk about win first game and then going to Pittsburgh and win another game. Now we have to focus on the second game, not think about the Game 7.”
CROSBY BACK: Sidney Crosby played 19:10, the most among Penguins forwards, and had an assist in his return to the lineup five days after being concussed. He lamented some struggles for his line, but expressed no concerns about his health.
“I felt good,” Crosby said. “There were some chances there. We just missed. Some nights you just don’t execute as well. I think there were some chances to be had there a few times and we just didn’t execute.”
TURRIS TIME: Ottawa Senators Game 5 star Kyle Turris became the seventh player in NHL history to score three overtime winners in his first 40 Stanley Cup playoff games. In beating the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist to put Ottawa up 3-2 in the series, Turris joined Devin Setoguchi, Martin St. Louis, Niclas Wallin, Danny Gare, Rene Robert and Mel Hill in the record books and passed Daniel Alfredsson for the most in franchise history.
EXPERIENCED BLUESHIRTS: New York is facing elimination for the first time in these playoffs on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, and coach Alain Vigneault hopes the collective experience serves his team well.
“There’s no doubt that for me experience, when you have it, is a good thing,” Vigneault said on a conference call Sunday. “This is going to be an opportunity for our team to respond and to play a strong game in a pressure situation.”
SUCCESS IN SMASHVILLE: A 3-1 victory in Game 6 Sunday over the St. Louis Blues put the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference final for the first time in their 18-year franchise history. The Predators will face either the Anaheim Ducks or Edmonton Oilers for the right to come out of the West.