PITTSBURGH — One of the keys to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ defense is getting strong play from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
He was the victim of two bad bounces off the end boards in Friday night’s 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 2 of the Penguins’ opening-round playoffs series at Consol Energy Center.
Bad bounces aside, there wasn’t much Fleury could do when his teammates repeatedly turned the puck over - 11 giveaways in all - and got out-hustled and out-hit by the fresh-faced Islanders, many of whom are appearing in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the very first time.
The Islanders, thumped 5-0 in Game 1, shrugged off 2-0 and 3-1 deficits and spoiled Sidney Crosby’s return to even the best-of-7 series at one game apiece.
“I think Marc was under siege quite a bit of the night,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
True, Fleury was peppered with plenty of shots in Game 2 and he made 38 saves, but he also allowed what could be considered two soft goals – both off the end boards.
He attempted to control the puck with his pad on the game-winning goal by Kyle Okposo in the third period, but the puck slithered behind Fleury and crossed the goal line.
Another carom cost him in the second period as Matt Martin cashed in for the Islanders.
There is no time to sulk for Fleury or the Penguins, whose Game 2 effort was eerily reminiscent of their playoff failures the past three seasons.
Their opening-round series resumes Sunday with Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders last played host to a playoff game in 2007.
Both Fleury and the Penguins will be looking to bounce back in a big way.
Although his 44 postseason wins are second among active goaltenders, behind only the 113 posted by the New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur, Fleury has been a very mediocre 13-15 since leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title in 2009 with a Game 7 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
A year ago, during the Penguins’ stunning first-round loss against their hated rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, Fleury was a very unsatisfactory 2-4. He surrendered 26 goals in the six-game series and finished with an .834 save percentage and 4.63 goals-against average.
That poor effort still was baffling to Fleury as the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs got under way last week.
“I think you learn from it, learn from what happened in the past and try to use it to improve,” he said.
“It’s just another obstacle I got to get through,” he said.
That approach worked well for him in Game 1 last Wednesday. He swatted aside all 26 Islanders shots for his sixth career playoff shutout, tying him with Tom Barrasso for the most in franchise history.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Fleury, who was 23-8 in the regular season with a 2.39 goals-against average. “He’s a guy I look up to. To be able to reach him is fun.”
The shutout was Fleury’s first in the postseason since April 13, 2011 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and came just five days after he and his wife, Veronique, gave birth to their first child, daughter Estelle.
Fleury joked that he already is teaching his daughter how to use the butterfly technique.
But Fleury, who has played in two Stanley Cup Finals, quickly turned serious. He’s focused on a long run in the playoffs for the top-seeded Penguins, who are heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
“It’s the playoffs and every game matters,” he said. “(You) always need to bring your best game. Playoff hockey is the best. It is the most fun hockey we play throughout the year.
“We have a good team and I think we can make a good run at the Cup. We want to win it, obviously.”
If it doesn’t happen, it’s unfair to put all the pressure on Fleury, given the world-class talent on the Penguins’ roster - Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla.
"(The pressure is) no different for Marc-Andre Fleury than for the 20 other players on our team," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said.
Fleury, 28, and veteran backup Tomas Vokoun, 36, proved to be quite a goaltending tandem during this strike-shortened regular-season.
Vokoun, acquired from the Washington Capitals in June in exchange for a seventh-round pick, logged a 13-4 record and 2.45 GAA in 20 regular-season games.
He has yet to make a postseason appearance.
“I think our goaltending’s probably been the one thing this year that’s been more like normal,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve had some good goaltending from our starter, Marc-Andre, and Tomas has gone in and played some big games as well.
“I think that’s been key for us in getting our game right and getting some wins.”
Fleury and the Penguins will both be looking to regain that winning formula Sunday in Game 3 against the pesky Islanders.
Ron Musselman is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter@ronmusselman8.