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Wednesday February 20 2019
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Fleury returns to Pittsburgh where his legacy is cemented

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From rookie to pro to veteran to legend, Marc-Andre Fleury is back in the city where that hockey metamorphosis took shape.

Tonight will mark the first time that Fleury takes the net this season in the house that he helped decorate, the rafters to be more particular. 

Flower will be at PPG Paints Arena as a member of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, who’ve ridden the 33-year-old veteran to a remarkable 35-13-4 record so far, with 15 wins for the netminder under his belt.

“I think it’ll be weird to see him at the other end,” said Sidney Crosby.

Fleury, who was drafted first overall in the 2003 NHL Draft by Pittsburgh, shared 12 seasons with Crosby on the ice.  The duo helped keep a hockey team in the steel city, gathered a surfeit of awards and accomplishments and hoisted the Stanley Cup three times, each carving out hall of fame careers in the process.

“There’s so much pressure on a goalie,” continued Crosby.  “With our team, there’s so much expectations here and I think that falls on a goalie’s shoulders a lot.  I think the mindset that he had, he came to the rink every day, had fun and put a smile on his face no matter what the situation was.  That’s not always easy to do and he found a way to do it.  That was something I got to see up close for a long time.”

Fleury, who is the all-time winningest goaltender in Penguins history with 375 wins, recently jockeyed ahead of Dominik Hasek for 13th place in career all-time wins (390) in Vegas’s 4-3 win over Washington on Sunday.

“He was a big part of our team for a long time.  A great teammate,” said Kris Letang, who joined Flower and Sid in the 2006-07 season.  “It’s going to be an emotional night for him, especially, and for a bunch of guys that played with him for a while.”

Netminder protégé Matt Murray noted the intangibles that make Flower one of the best in the game to protect the cage, and what the 15-year-veteran instilled on a young Murray as a rookie coming up in the league.

“How to be a professional and be consistent,” Murray illustrated.

“I was a kid coming into the NHL and I really don’t think you understand what it takes to be successful night in and night out.  Flower exemplified that over his entire career [and] that’s why he is one of the best of all-time.”

“Flower was a huge mentor for me,” the Pens’ goalie concluded.  “He’s somebody that I became pretty close with over the last couple of years, so it will be nice to see him again.”

The two-time Hart Trophy winner had some tumultuous moments in Pittsburgh and never was that more prevalent than last season, when Fleury had the starting reigns for the first 15 games, only to be shelved for Murray until one of the more stoic moments of Flower’s career came at the start of the postseason, when Murray went down with a torn hamstring during warm ups in Game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Columbus.

“We’ve always had confidence in (Fleury) and we knew that he would lead us through,” said Crosby after the Penguins defeated the Blue Jackets 3-1 on the heels of an emergency start from Fleury, in which he stopped 31 of 32 shots.

Never starting a single game in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, as Murray returned midway through the Conference Finals against Ottawa, Fleury managed to corral nine postseason wins in the gallant effort that pushed the Pens towards their fifth Stanley Cup. 

Last season might not have been as memorable as Fleury’s 2009 postseason campaign, which culminated with the most decisive two-second save of Penguins lore in Game Seven against Detroit, but it was certainly the most suit and tie professional work of his career.

“We had some very difficult decisions,” said Sullivan of last season’s ebbs and flows for Fleury.  “We tried to do what was best for the hockey team and Marc was just such a professional in how he handled the whole thing.  I can tell you appreciative I am of how professional he was.  There were a couple of tough conversations.  Those conversations might have been some of the toughest conversations that I’ve had as a coach.”

“When you go through the experiences Marc went through the last couple of years, it takes a real professional and a real solid person to handle them the right way, the proper way,” concluded coach.

From his stellar goaltending to his consistent leadership to his community service to his gregarious attitude, Marc-Andre Fleury stands in a ring of Pittsburgh sports excellence that is not as big as you may think.  His work in this city should never be forgotten, especially to the eyes that witnessed his punching in greatness in front of that net day in and day out.

While the tribute videos for every returning player may seem redundant or overdone, leave no doubt that Flower’s acknowledgement should be the one that you will always remember.  Without him, the Pittsburgh Penguins are not who they are today. 

Stand.  Clap.  Cheer.  Choke up.  Even if you’re not in the building tonight, let the emotions take your hockey soul for a ride through memory lane.  Honor the most important goaltender in the history of a world-class franchise.  Fleury deserves it.  

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