WINNIPEG, Canada (Reuters) - Marc-Andre Fleury quickly gained revenge on the Winnipeg fans who had mercilessly taunted the Vegas Golden Knights netminder on Saturday when the Jets pumped three goals past him in the opening minutes of the NHL Western Conference finals.
Fleury took the barbs and a 4-2 loss with good humour but replaced the smiles with his game face on Monday as he delivered a stellar 30-save performance to backstop the Golden Knights to a 3-1 victory to send series back to Las Vegas level at 1-1.
“I expected that they (would) come out flying again,” said Fleury, refusing to gloat. “Everybody steps up at some point and everybody is contributing to the success of our team. That’s why we’ve been consistent in the season and the playoffs.”
A triple Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was always going to take more than chants of “Fleurrrry, Fleurrrry” no matter how loud to rattle the ice cool French-Canadian.
Fleury’s sparkling play during the first two round of the post-season that featured series wins over the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks put him firmly in the Conn Smythe trophy discussion as the playoffs most valuable player.
Monday’s effort in Game Two of the best-of-seven series will have only enhanced his claims.
His .951 save percentage coming into the West Finals was the best in NHL history for a goalie with at least 10 playoff starts but he has also surrendered three or more goals in five of his last six contests.
Despite the Game One wobble, Fleury remains key to Vegas’ hopes of capping a remarkable debut campaign by becoming the first expansion team in a major North American professional league to claim a championship on their first attempt.
As they did in Game One, the Jets came out firing on all cylinders but Fleury withstood the barrage while Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Marchessault each counted to give the Golden Knights a 2-0 first period lead.
“They came out pretty hard and Fleury had to make three or four real good save the first seven or eight minutes,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “We rebounded after that and got that 2-0 lead and it was a different game.”
Fleury would not surrender a goal until midway through the final period when Kyle Connor, parked at the side of net, rifled a shot that somehow found its way between the netminder’s pads, sparking a roar from the Winnipeg crowd.
The buzz, however, lasted just 88 seconds before Marchessault collected his second goal of the game with a nifty backhand over Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
Additional reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by John O'Brien