DENVER — It was a good day for Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. On Tuesday, he basked in recognition of his first-ever Vezina trophy nomination, and he was named the starter for Game 2 of Vgeas’ Round Two series against the Colorado Avalanche.
The former Pittsburgh Penguins’ first overall pick and franchise cornerstone is on top of the world right now.
If Fleury, 36, had to pick the Vezina nomination or the Game 2 start, he would probably select the Game 2 start. It was a grueling seven-game series against the Minnesota Wild in Round One, in which Fleury helped beat back a stiff and surprising challenge. Vegas won in seven.
Fleury was nearly unbeatable in the series, despite losing three games. He posted a 1.71 GAA, and a .931 save percentage. However, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer chose to give Fleury rest for Game 1, and Robin Lehner was blitzed for seven goals as Colorado boat raced Vegas 7-1.
In classic Fleury fashion, he expressed regret for his teammate’s rough night.
“It was a hard series, no doubt about it. (We were) traveling, the time change, playing every other day. You get a big win like that, and the next day I fly to Colorado. So I think it was tiring for our whole team,” Fleury said. “I think it showed a bit in game one. But I knew from the beginning that Robin would play some games, and I feel bad Robin was thrown into that one–to the lions where we didn’t have our best game, and they had their best one. Right?”
Marc-Andre Fleury Journey
For the first time in Fleury’s NHL career, which began in the 2003-04 season behind a pretty bad Penguins team, he cracked the magical 2.00 goals-against-average. This season he rocked a 1.98 GAA while posting a .928 save percentage.
It was truly a Vezina-worthy season.
In addition to Fleury, Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, 26, and Fleury’s Game 2 opponent, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer, 29, are the other Vezina finalists.
While the other two are comparatively youngsters, this has been a long time coming for Fleury, who has three Stanley Cup rings but had to cede the net to Matt Murray in the Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup run and share it in 2017.
Through the ups and downs of his Pittsburgh Penguins career, there were far more ups and some brilliant seasons, but he never got the Vezina nomination until now.
“It’s pretty cool. I never go into this season thinking I want to be a nominee or finalist for Vezina. My thoughts are always about winning games and on winning in the playoffs,” Fleury said. “That’s always my mindset. And yeah, I’m not looking for individual awards. But this is definitely very flattering, and I’m honored to among these guys.”
Fleury, who is sporting a mustache and some chin growth, talked about his childhood heroes, who were goalies, of course. They also happen to be the two men Fleury is chasing as hockey’s all-time winningest goalies.
“Marty Brodeur and Patrick Roy were the guys that I really tried to model my game after. Roy with the butterfly style he brought in, Brodeur still did it, but sometimes he would go to one knee down, a poke check, two-pad stack–you know, a little bit more unpredictable,” Fleury said. “…but I’m a hockey big fan. I love hockey. I love goalies especially. And always, I watch games. I watch highlights still nowadays and see what guys do…”
Marc-Andre Fleury is now in their company. The goalie who once hid in a hockey bag to scare a teammate, bundled up a new teammate’s clothes and hung them from the rafters before practice, and has brought laughs, smiles, and success to his teams has finally been recognized as one of the best.
What took so long?
“I think my mom was always the funnier one, a bit, but one thing my dad always told me was to go to the rink and try hard. Do your best and have fun. Those things he would tell me, and that’s what I’ve tried to do in my life,” beamed Fleury. “Coming to the NHL at a young age to a great group of veterans that still brought that and emphasis on that–that we have to stay loose–to keep smiling and having fun. For me to play well, I think I need to be relaxed and smiling, and having fun. And that’s what I’ve done my best games…”
It certainly is fun to watch Fleury have success. It’s also fun to see him recognized.
One quick story: With no cameras rolling, with his Pittsburgh Penguins future already concluded after the 2017 Stanley Cup win and his Vegas future assured, Fleury did an autograph signing at a sporting goods store near the Penguins practice rink. The demand was so great, the store had to issue a limited number of tickets but invited several media outlets to cover it.
We watched and photographed, and talked to fans who showed up with signs and jerseys and adulation. Fleury didn’t just sign things. He stopped everyone to talk. He listened to stories and gushing praise. And at the end, he shook all of the media members’ hands, too.
Fleury is finally a Vezina finalist. But he’d probably trade it for a series win.