On two misplays, all the good will Marc-Andre Fleury had earned in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ division semifinal against the Columbus Blue Jackets was squandered. All the confidence evaporated. All the hope that he wouldn’t be a liability for the third straight postseason thrown into doubt.
Yes, he made 42 saves in the game, as the Blue Jackets desperately peppered him in a fight for their playoff lives on Wednesday night. But it’s the two he didn’t make with 24 seconds left in regulation and 2:49 into overtime that cost the Penguins the game, 4-3, and made this a best-of-three series.
His puck-handling gaffe behind the net with the Columbus net empty was inexcusable:
Why leave the net? Why attempt to make a play? And if there was a play to be made, why not ensure the puck is stopped for your defensemen to grind it out? Instead, he gift wrapped the puck for the best passer on the Jackets, Ryan Johansen, who found Brandon Dubinsky, who found the back of the net through two stunned Pittsburgh defenders who assumed their goaltender wouldn’t flub the lead away.
Then, in overtime, Fleury was beaten by a Nick Foligno shot that was launched somewhere near Cleveland:
With that, a Blue Jackets team, that saw their own goalie resemble a turnstile in the first period as Pittsburgh established a 3-0 lead, rallied for the 4-3 win and the series tie, Marc-Andre Fleury having bestowed upon them the miracle of postseason life.
He’s far from the only culprit on this Penguins team, which has been so thoroughly outhustled at times that they’re fortunate it’s only 2-2. Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a playoff goal in nine games. Evgeni Malkin hasn’t scored a playoff goal in eight games. And after going 31-3-2 when leading after two periods in the regular season, they blew third-period leads in both of their losses to the Blue Jackets.
Again, Fleury hasn’t been terrible this series. His .932 even strength save percentage puts him in Henrik Lundqvist territory. But he cost the Penguins Game 4 like he cost them games in the last two postseasons, and that’s the worst way Pittsburgh could have gone back home with this series knotted.