PITTSBURGH - As the seconds ticked down in the Penguins' Eastern Conference-clinching win yesterday, a chant began. It was spontaneous at first, then rose in decibel as fans were urged on by a name flashing on the scoreboard at Mellon Arena.
They weren't serenading captain Sidney Crosby, although he played a tremendous two-way game and had two assists.
Hometowner Ryan Malone wasn't the one singled out at that moment, despite his two goals and an assist. It wasn't Marian Hossa, who had a goal and three assists, either.
The object of the crowd's affection was, perhaps, the friendliest, most unassuming guy on a team stocked with good-hearted players.
"It's amazing. I got butterflies," said goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. "The fans are extremely nice."
As if the love wasn't deserved.
"I don't think anybody was happier for him than all the guys on our bench," defenseman Brooks Orpik said after the 6-0 win that sent the rival Flyers home and left the Penguins waiting to see whether they will play Detroit or Dallas in the Stanley Cup final.
Fleury was swarmed by his teammates after the final horn. He made 21 saves for his third shutout of these playoffs - one in each round so far.
Fleury, 23, is 12-2 in the postseason, 8-0 at Mellon Arena. Asked if he remembered the last time he lost a start at home, Fleury thought for a second. "When was it?" he asked.
Told it was Nov. 21, a 2-1 loss to New Jersey, Fleury didn't seem to want to believe it.Of course, there was that time off due to a high ankle sprain sandwiched in.But there is little doubt about Fleury's health or ability now. *