Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights are tied against the Montreal Canadiens in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Semifinals with Game 3 at Montreal on Friday (8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS).
In his 15th NHL postseason, 11 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the past four with the Golden Knights, the 36-year-old native of Sorel, Quebec, has kicked, sprawled, pirouetted, windmilled, dived and grinned to 90 Stanley Cup Playoff victories, two short of equaling Fuhr, the Edmonton Oilers legend, for third place on the all-time playoff wins list.
Ranked first and second are Fleury’s boyhood idols: fellow Quebec natives Roy, with 151 for the Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche, and Brodeur, 113 for the New Jersey Devils.
From left: Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Grant Fuhr, currently the NHL’s top three all-time in playoff wins.
Brodeur (691), Roy (551) and Fleury (492) already are ranked 1-2-3 for all-time regular-season wins, Fleury this season having moved into third place past Roberto Luongo (489), another Quebecer.
Through 14 games this postseason, Fleury is 9-5 with a 1.92 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and one shutout. He is a first-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, in the running with Philipp Grubauer of the Avalanche and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the latter in 2018-19 voted winner of the trophy awarded annually to the goalie judged to be best at his position.
Fleury was 26-10-0 for the Golden Knights this season, finishing third in the NHL in wins and shutouts (six), and third in goals-against average (1.98) and save percentage (.928) among goalies to play at least 20 games.
Roy, a three-time Vezina winner, is a long way out front at the playoff wins summit. But if Fleury wins seven more games to lead Vegas to the 2021 Stanley Cup, then 16 more postseason games before he retires — the equivalent of four series victories — he’ll pull even with No. 2 Brodeur, now a fellow winner of three championships.
“Even if he doesn’t reach Marty, it’s pretty amazing what he’s been doing,” Roy said from Quebec City. “I’m very impressed with him. He seems to be very, very strong mentally. That side of him has been phenomenal.”
Roy spoke of Fleury having lost his father to cancer two months into the 2019-20 season, then losing the Golden Knights’ No. 1 job to Robin Lehner.
“That could have been the end of Marc-Andre’s career but he accepted his role,” Roy said. “I’m sure (Vegas GM) Kelly McCrimmon is saying thank you every day for having had Marc-Andre stick by the team with such a great attitude. I’m not sure where they’d be today without him.
“He’s a heck of a fighter, he never gives up. What stands out for me is how good Marc-Andre is dealing with adversity. I was pretty confident that he’d bounce back from last year but seriously, this is a lot more than what I expected. He’s shown a lot of character. I’m very impressed.”
Watching from his home in St. Louis, Brodeur is also enjoying Fleury’s strong run this playoff season, joking that his No. 2 ranking for all-time playoff wins could well be in jeopardy.
“If ‘Flower’ is still playing, anything’s possible,” Brodeur said with a laugh. “He’s shown through the years how competitive he is, how clutch he can be in the playoffs. He’s a bit like I was at the end of my career – if you play for that long and have some success on good teams, you’ll have a lot of wins next to your name.”
Fuhr knows his No. 3 ranking is on very thin ice. And so, he says, should his friend Brodeur be looking over his shoulder.
“Marc-Andre is what, 36? But he’s healthy. That’s the biggest thing near the end of your career, staying healthy to give yourself a shot,” Fuhr said from his home in Palm Springs, California. “Vegas has a good team and they’re going to be good for a long time. I think he’s got a shot at Marty.”
Fleury hopes to move within one win of Fuhr on Friday when he will play his first game in his home province in exactly 18 months, that one a 5-4 shootout loss to the Canadiens on Jan. 18, 2020.
Roy, for one, doesn’t believe the Montreal crowd’s expected heckling of Fleury will even dent his Golden Knights armor, much less pierce it.
“I don’t think they’ll affect Marc-Andre one bit,” said Roy, who won Stanley Cup championships with the Canadiens in 1986 and 1993, then two more with the Avalanche in 1996 and 2001.
“I think he’s going to enjoy it. If I were in his position, I would. I’m not sure how much longer he’ll play, but when you know you’re on the back nine of your career, you want to enjoy those moments and I’m sure he will.”
Brodeur, a four-time Vezina winner, goes back with Fleury to before the latter was selected No. 1 by the Penguins in the 2003 NHL Draft, a month after Roy retired; Fleury was among the prospects who attended the Stanley Cup Final that year, which ultimately was Brodeur’s third and final championship.
They also spent time together as teammates on Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, their relationship flourishing as their NHL careers overlapped from 2003-04 through 2014-15, Brodeur with the Devils and seven final games with the St. Louis Blues, Fleury with Pittsburgh.
” ‘Flower’ definitely has got a bit of old school in him,” said Brodeur, another goalie who like contemporary Dominik Hasek sprawled around the crease with an unconventional style that couldn’t be taught. “You don’t play as long as he has and have his success without adjusting to the new trends in goaltending. I know I did when I was older.
“It all comes back to the athleticism that he’s showing out there, that’s what makes him so special. ‘Flower’ finds ways to make the save. I’m sure he’s worked on his technique as much as anyone but at one point, the athlete in him comes out. He’s never out of it, he’s a competitor. He never takes himself too seriously and he’s engaged with his players. Watch how he talks to the players and the referees, you can tell he’s having fun playing the game.”
Fuhr, who won the Stanley Cup with the Oilers four times in five seasons during Edmonton’s 1980s dynasty and was voted winner of the Vezina for 1987-88, also uses “old school” as a way to define Fleury.
Roger Crozier (left) and Tony Esposito, two goalies who Martin Brodeur links in a way to Marc-Andre Fleury.
“Just the way he plays stands out to me,” Fuhr said. “No. 1, he’s a phenomenal competitor and No. 2, he’s kind of the last of the athletic goalies. That’s why I enjoy watching him. He might not always be textbook perfect, but he’s old school in that he just gets it done. To me, he’s kind of a mix between Tony Esposito and Roger Crozier.”
Esposito took the butterfly style of goaltending pioneered by Glenn Hall in the 1950s to the next level with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1969-84; Crozier was wildly acrobatic for the Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals from 1963-77.
“I like the matchup between Vegas and Montreal, two of my favorite guys in the League playing against each other,” Fuhr said. “Marc-Andre is kind of a throwback and (the Canadiens’) Carey Price is what the next generation of goalies is going to look like, a hybrid.”
Roy, Brodeur and Fuhr say they’d welcome Fleury to the Hall of Fame with open arms should that day come. But for now, they agree his story seems far from finished, another season left on his Vegas contract and with plenty of fuel apparently still in his tank.
“Whenever I watch Marc-Andre play, it seems he enjoys the game,” Roy said. “He’s there because he’s passionate about it. It’s fun watching him have fun. He deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done throughout his career, but especially now.”
Photos: Getty Images/HHoF Images