Did you know there are only two – that’s 2 – starting goalies in this year’s playoffs with Stanley Cup rings? The legendary Martin Brodeur of New Jersey and yours truly, Marc-Andre Fleury. I was stunned when I saw that nugget of info; almost found it hard to believe. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time. Now it’s clear to me – the Pens are damn lucky to have a bona fide, top-flight starter, and a Cup winner no less, in net. It’s been said that goaltending wins championships, and the Pens have a guy that’s been there and done that. Just about every other team doesn’t have that luxury. Far from it.
Look around the league. Two of the faves to win it all, Chicago and Washington, have them some serious goaltending issues. It took the Caps all of three-plus periods to bench starter Jose Theodore for Semyon Varlamov. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s exactly what happened last season. The Hawks are going with a guy by the name of Antti Niemi, who has no playoff games under his belt. Other starters who entered this year’s second season with zero experience? Boston’s Tuuka Rask, Ottawa’s Brian Elliott, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and Colorado’s Craig Anderson. Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak played in parts of three games. Philly’s Brian Boucher hadn’t seen serious playoff action since the 1999-2000 season.
Fleury, on the other hand, has 52 career playoff games to his credit. He’s played 44 postseason games over the past two seasons, 47 if you count this year. His record over that span? 32-15. That’s 17 games over .500 – in the playoffs. In 2007-08 he finished with a 1.97 GAA and .933 save percentage. He followed that up by winning out and leading the Pens to Cup victory.
I was a little rough on Fleury after Game 1 against Ottawa. He deserved it. As he is prone to do, however, Fleury bounced back with superior efforts in Games 2 and 3. Some fans are quick to jump on the goalie; much like some Steelers’ fans are quick to jump on the quarterback. Hey, it’s the easiest thing to do after blaming the coach, right? But #29 should have earned everybody’s trust and respect by now. After all, facts are facts. Fleury is an elite goaltender when it matters most.
I’m not saying experience is everything. Who knows, maybe one or two of the aforementioned netminders will make it to the finals this year. What I do know is I’d rather have a guy with Fleury’s playoff credentials backstopping my team than a guy with none whatsoever.