I wrote a couple of days back that Marc Andre Fleury needed to be in #1 star form for the Penguins to advance in the playoffs. That he had to find a way to play his BEST in game 7.
Fleury ended up being the #3 star in the game...and as it turns out, he really didn't need to be #1 with the way the rest of his team handled the Capitals on Wednesday night while cruising to a 6-2 victory.
But in the first period...when the game was scoreless...Fleury made his best save of the series.
It was a defining moment in game 7. If that puck gets past Fleury...at the hands of the leagues' greatest goal scorer (yes...he is...no doubt)...who knows what would have happened after that.
By making that save, Fleury established his "presence" in the game and gave his team the kind of reassurance they needed that he was there and had brought his best.
Aside from one really bad gaffe, that resulted in Ovechkin's second "gimme" goal of the series, Fleury played his best game of the series and I think he would have been able to rise to the occassion and stop the Capitals, if the situation had warranted it.
Props to Fleury for being a big time goalie when it counted the most.
Alexander Ovechkin is an intense hockey player.
He skates, scores goals and hits all in the same way...a FLASH.
Fans of Ovie's style say he's a complete player because of the physical element he brings to the game.
Those that aren't so fond of AO say he's a dirty player because he's always looking for the big hit and sometimes he crosses the line with "headhunting" or in the case of the hit on Gonchar, maybe just trying a little too hard to make sure he gets a "piece" of somebody.
Like it or not, that's the way he plays.
Personally, I have been saying for a couple of years now that what he does is great for the highlight reel, but not always great for his team. There are times when he needs to learn how to play a different type of game in order to really become the best player he can be...one that helps his team the most.
Last night he placed a hit that was a perfect example of that.
Ovie was cruising toward Malkin with that "locked on target" look when Malkin, as he has done in the past, made a last second move to avoid the Ovechkin Cruise Missle.
Ovechkin, traveling at a high rate of speed, was unable to alter his path. Most of the time when this happens, he hits the boards or grabs a lot of air. But not this time.
Niklas Backstrom was now in AO's line of fire and took the brunt of the blow. Backstrom took a while to compose himself and get off the ice. He was a bit shaken but would return and play the rest of the game without any apparent issue.
But that scenario, along with some others that are created by Ovie's desire to make the "spectacular" play, are the types of things that I think sometimes take away from the player he COULD be.
What if Backstrom had been hurt? ...and what if that hit took place in game 1 instead of game 7?
What other "hits" has he attempted and in the process taken himself out of a good defensive position...only to watch the Pens or another team go the other way and score a goal?
It's tough for a Penguins fan to get across this message to non-Pens fans without being linked to some "Crosby vs Ovechkin" debate. But what I am saying has nothing to do with Crosby. It has to do with a GREAT offensive player, learning how to become a GREAT all round player.
And sometimes that means sacrificing the "spectacular"...or the attempt at it...for the better and smarter hockey play.
Obviously, this series was special.
It lived up to the hype in just about every way...with game 7 being the only real downer from a hockey purists point of view.
The Capitals have a great team to watch and one that should only get better next year. They are leaning what it takes to win in the playoffs.
The Penguins are just a small step ahead of the Caps in that regard, and maybe that was the big difference last night.
The Capitals can learn something from the Penguins, just as the Penguins learned something from the Red Wings last spring.
You can have all the offensive firepower in the world, but to win the Cup, you have to be a complete team in all aspects of the game. You have to play just as hard without the puck as you do with it. Work just as diligently on defense as you do on offense.
Eveything goes in cycles. Right now the Pens have gotten the best of the Caps and were able to move on. Someday, maybe as soon as next year, the tables could be turned. That's just the way it goes.
But, as most of you probably feel, we are very fortunate to be fans of this game at a time when so many great, young players are playing. These guys aren't really even in their primes yet ...there's a scary thought...so we are almost guaranteed to see more series like this one in the future.
How lucky are we???