Pucks are the least of what Marc-Andre Fleury has to deflect. Probably no player in the Stanley Cup playoffs faces more skepticism than the Penguins goalie. Not even a shutout, such as the one he achieved in Game 2 against the Rangers on Sunday night, could forestall a feeling that suggested, "Let's see him do it again."
Then he did it again Monday night in Game 3. Actually, he was even better. This time he made 35 saves, stifling the Rangers and muting the noise in Madison Square Garden during a 2-0 win.
It was another huge effort from a scrutinized, criticized goalie who was yanked after a shaky playoff against the Islanders last year and had his vulnerable moments in the first round this season. Underneath all that goaltending equipment, he has a thick skin.
"He gets a lot of practice," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "The question has been asked for 100 days in a row. He knows the answer only comes on the ice, in winning hockey games. That's it, period."
Fleury took his franchise-record eighth shutout in stride, just as he accepted the benching against the Islanders last postseason, and just as he took the heat for allowing two soft goals that lost Game 4 to the Blue Jackets this year.
"I think it's from experience, from living it," he said. "Don't get too high, don't get too low. Even keel, right? That's a good word? Try to be ready for the next game, try to stop the next shot. Think about it that night, watch videos of what you could do better, then put it behind you and move on."
The Penguins have stuck with him. They had no choice. Tomas Vokoun missed the entire regular season because of a blood clot and backup Jeff Zatkoff has zero playoff experience. Fleury responded with 22 saves Sunday and was stellar Monday night. He sheepishly smiled when acknowledging he was lucky, too.
After Mats Zuccarello's shot at 8:02 of the second, Fleury patted the crossbar. "A little thank you," he said. "It's a good friend."
Fleury also has loyal friends in his locker room no matter how much he has been questioned outside of it. "He looks confident. He doesn't look like he's panicking at all," Sidney Crosby said.
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, whose pass set up Crosby's deciding goal, said of the two shutouts: "No surprise in our room. The guy has been rock- solid, night in and night out."
The goalie actually tapped the bench when he spoke about how good the Penguins have been killing penalties. He can knock on wood all he wants, but there was no knocking a controversial goalie Monday night.
"He has won the Stanley Cup and he's taken his team to the Finals one [other] year," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's one of the best in the league."