Thoughts on Marc-Andre Fleury's status for Game 5, rest of NHL semifinals and any possible return to Pittsburgh

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Jun. 22—Pittsburgh Penguins fans who have tracked Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending career have seen this before.

—In 2013, he was replaced in the playoffs by Tomas Vokoun after going 23-8 in the regular season.

—In 2016, he lost his job due to injury to Matt Murray before the playoffs began after having his best statistical season to date (.921 save percentage, 2.29 goals against average).

—In 2017, he started the playoffs brilliantly, claiming the team's first nine postseason victories before yielding the net back to Murray, who eventually finished off the team's second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

—In 2020, Fleury won 27 regular-season games, but only got four of 20 starts for the Vegas Golden Knights as head coach Peter DeBoer turned to Robin Lehner for the majority of playoff games.

This year, the same thing may be happening to Fleury. After a Vezina Trophy nomination for his regular-season performance and a fine start through the first two rounds of the playoffs, DeBoer decided to turn back to Lehner again in Game 4 of the team's semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens.

That's despite Fleury's 9-6 postseason record, along with a 1.97 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

Lehner came through this time. After being called upon to start Game 1 of the team's second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, Lehner was drilled 7-0. But he bounced back to best the Canadiens 2-1 in overtime Sunday.

So what does this mean moving forward for Fleury? DeBoer has always tried to balance out the starts between the two goalies. He attempted to make it sound as if his decision to bench Fleury wasn't because of his late-game gaffe that cost the Golden Knights Game 3 of the series Friday, claiming it was more about Fleury's 15 starts in the playoffs.

C'mon. After that, who is he kidding?

And now Jesse Granger, who covers the Golden Knights for The Athletic, isn't sure which direction DeBoer will go.

"The fact that DeBoer said it was related to Marc-Andre Fleury's fatigue, or that he wanted to get him a rest, kind of leads you to believe that maybe it will be back to Fleury in Game 5 in Vegas. But, at the same time, the way Rob Lehner played, I wouldn't fault (DeBoer) for sticking with him either," Granger said on Tuesday's "Breakfast With Benz" podcast.

DeBoer isn't expected to announce which goaltender will start until game time on Tuesday. Lehner was good in Game 4, stopping 27 of 28 Montreal shots. Also, as Granger pointed out, Natural Stat Trick tracked the Canadiens as having a whopping 17-0 advantage when it came to high-danger chances through the end of regulation. So Lehner was good when times were tough as well.

After Lehner took center stage last year, there was much thought that Vegas may move Fleury in the offseason. General manager Jim Rutherford admitted to calling Vegas G.M. Kelly McCrimmon about a potential deal. But the Knights kept their combination together, and they ended up winning the Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders who allowed the fewest goals in a season.

So that move paid off, as did starting Lehner in Game 5. But if Lehner should get the call moving forward as the team's starter throughout this round and into a potential Cup Final, then what?

Granger said that the Knights only have about $2 million dollars in salary cap space projected for next year, and they have some unrestricted free agents that they'd like to sign. So dealing with either Fleury's $7 million contract (through 2022) or Lehner's $5 million contract (through 2025) is an option, but they both have modified no-trade clauses.

Sentimentality may come into play as well.

"I don't believe Marc-Andre Fleury will be traded," Granger said. "Owner Bill Foley loves Marc-Andre Fleury. He has told Marc-Andre Fleury he will retire as a Golden Knight. I don't know if he will overrule the front office. But I do think the general consensus among the front office and the ownership is that, in a perfect world, Marc-Andre Fleury finishes his contract in Vegas. To be honest, I could even see him signing another contract at a lower cap hit after that."

Granger wouldn't call that a sure thing but says it is a possibility.

So for those in Pittsburgh having visions of Fleury perhaps coming back to rejoin the Penguins, don't hold your breath. Not only may the Golden Knights want to keep him, but the Pens would also have a tough time talking Vegas into retaining much of his salary.

Something the Penguins would likely need in order to swing such a deal unless someone of a similar cap number went out the door in exchange.

Also in our podcast, Granger tells us about how well Fleury had played up until that Game 3 mishap in Montreal, his off-ice relationship with Lehner and how neither goalie has gotten much support from a forward group that has gone ice cold against the Canadiens.

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Listen: Tim Benz and Jesse Granger discuss Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights' goalie situation

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.