Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Legacy Re-Written

When Marc-Andre Fleury was handed the Stanley Cup on June 11th, 2016 there was a sadness in his eyes.  He quickly passed it off as his expression read, "This isn't mine, I don't deserve this."  On June 11th, 2017 his expression was different.  This Cup?  This was his.

It was easy to scoff as Marc-Andre Fleury's time as a Pittsburgh Penguin.  Sure he brought them a Stanley Cup but beyond shining numbers in the regular season that saw him lead the franchise in wins, shut outs, etc, there was a strong case that he was the team's weakness in the playoffs.  It's easily argued that he was the heaviest anchor in the failed 2011-12 season when the team failed spectacularly against the Flyers.

Goalie coaches and head coaching changes brought about a new and improved Marc-Andre Fleury.  Mike Bales and Mike Johnston's defensive system (ugh, remember Mike Johnston?) renewed Fleury.  Better were his numbers and his confidence restored.

From there you know the story: A coaching replacement and a fluke injury led to Matt Murray's rise to instant stardom, an improbable Cup run by a goalie not even classified as a rookie, and suddenly Fleury had lost what was seemingly his for the foreseeable future, forced to watch from the sidelines as that Cup that wasn't his was passed to him and immediately passed on to someone else.

Now the back up for the Penguins, Fleury stuck with the only team he'd known and (by varying accounts both reputable and not) suffered through seeing his team wrested away by the younger Cup winner.  It was an inglorious end to the most decorated goaltending run in the 50 year history of an even more decorated franchise.

As the Penguins prepped for another chance at a Stanley Cup, Murray returned from injury in time for the post season and looked to keep Fleury on the bench again.  It was to be a sadly unfitting end to someone who had given his all to the only franchise he'd ever known.

And then, ten minutes before Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Murray re-aggrivated his groin injury.  Marc-Andre Fleury was thrown back in to the net.  And that's when he began to help erase as much of the foul taste had been left in his, and fans', mouths by previous years.

From there Fleury held down the fort for a team that ended up being outshot 11 times in 25 games.  It's no stretch to say without him setting the tone in Game 1, stopping 31 against Columbus, they have a much harder time against a game Blue Jackets.  

Without Marc-Andre Fleury there's no chance the Penguins advance past a Washington Capitals who, for six of the seven games, were decidedly the better team.  It's not without Marc-Andre Fleury's stealing three games that the Penguins move on to face the Ottawa Senators.

While the storybook that seemed to be in the process of being written ended there after Fleury was pulled for a bad period (whether or not that was necessary is a question that will now be lost in the ether of history), Fleury did all he could to change the way he's looked upon when the long and storied history of the Penguins is looked back upon.

Jim Rutherford could have traded Fleury at the deadline.  He could have made cap room and received a big trade piece with the new wiggle room.  Instead he held on to Marc-Andre Fleury and as a result allowed him to change his exit from Pittsburgh.  No longer was he a bystander.  Instead he was a key cog in the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup.

When Fleury lifted his third Stanley Cup on Sunday night, this one was different.  It was his once again, much like in 2009.  And with that, if he donned the Penguins sweater for the last time, he went out on top.  That's the memory he deserved.  When he handed that Cup, his Cup, to Matt Murray, he ended his legacy his way.  His time was done in Pittsburgh and in the end he'd won.
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