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Marc-Andre Fleury had winning in mind all along
By W.G. RAMIREZ
LAS VEGAS (AP) Marc-Andre Fleury never believed the expansion Vegas Golden Knights were a team built just for the future, and that losing would be acceptable because it was the inaugural season.
On Sept. 13, the three-time Stanley Cup goaltender said: "It's not something I accept. Every guy here wants to win. We know where we're at, we won't accept losing. We're looking at winning some games."
With help from Fleury, the Golden Knights did a lot more than win some games. They're one of the most successful expansion teams ever. In any sport.
"It's a good thing it worked out, so I don't look like a fool," Fleury said Friday about his bold preseason statement.
"Every guy here has a lot of pride in the way we play, the way we look at ourselves as a team every night. We all have pride in winning and I think it's shown throughout the season, and in the (first round of the) playoffs, too."
Fleury dominated the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The Golden Knights became just the sixth team to allow three or fewer goals in a playoff series going back to 1980.
With an 0.65 goals-against average Fleury joined a short list of goalies since 1967-68 who have won all four games of a playoff series and kept their GAA to 0.70 or fewer.
Same ole Fleury, different team.
"We played some very sound hockey and when we didn't, when we were having a bad period or a bad stretch, goaltending was there to help us stabilize," Vegas general manager George McPhee said. "And that's why he's here, that's what he gets paid to do and he does it very well."
Next up: the San Jose Sharks.
After fans watched a stellar goaltending matchup between Fleury and Kings' Jonathan Quick, the 14-year veteran faces a San Jose team that had goalie Martin Jones stop 128 of 132 shots in a sweep of the Anaheim Ducks.
"Their goalie is very good; their defensemen also contribute to their attacks, they're a quicker team than L.A. I think they'll create more offensively," Fleury said. "It'll be a little more fast pace and a little more open hockey, they'll be a little more up and down."
Fleury will prepare with a meticulous approach and tranquil execution that impresses teammates.
"His calmness in the net is unbelievable," defenseman Shea Theodore said. "When you're having little chit chats on the ice and you've been hemmed in and they've had five or six or seven Grade A chances and he's been flopping around, you go to talk to him. . He's just so calm and so patient in the net, I feel it definitely calms our group down."
Forward Cody Eakin said Fleury always lets his teammates know he is aware of their play.
"It's just a huge part of his game, tracking pucks, being sharp, or knowing what's going on around him - he's phenomenal at that," Eakin said. "It gives you confidence when he's talking to you, or you can talk to him, or skate by and give him a wink. He's pretty amazing."
Amazing, like the Golden Knights' improbable season. And Fleury said they're just getting started.
"We're not done here," he said, "hopefully we have a long way to go."
STATWATCH: Fleury stopped 127 of 130 shots in the first round, a save percentage of .977. His career playoff save percentage is .910. He had two shutouts while allowing three goals in 275 minutes against the Kings.
While Fleury doesn't get consumed with stats, there is one that matters to him.
"Wins," he said. "I'm not out there to prove anything, I just want to win games. If I can help the team get wins, that's all that matters. If I win and the team wins, everybody's happy, the coaches, the fans, and at the end of the day that's why you play."
The last time Fleury led his team to a first-round sweep was in 2009, when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup - the first of three in his career.
BIGGEST MOMENT: Any one of the three times Fleury hoisted the Stanley Cup was a big moment during his career. But not the biggest, according to him.
"My first game was pretty big, because that's always been my dream to play in the NHL," said Fleury, who allowed two goals and stopped 46 shots in a 3-0 loss to the Kings in his NHL debut on Oct. 10, 2003. "I never thought I would make it. But the first time I could play and made some saves in a game, I thought that was so cool."
Fleury didn't say where a Stanley Cup with Vegas would rank, keeping his focus on San Jose.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: During an interview on NHL Network, former teammate Ryan Whitney asked the prankster goalie if he had moved on from Olive Garden, which Fleury laughingly said fit his budget back then. Nowadays, Fleury's pregame meals are catered to his liking by the chefs at City National Arena, the team's headquarters.
"On game day I always eat the same stuff. I just go with noodles, oil and chicken, a little vegetable, a side salad," said Fleury, who said he cherishes the vibe on game day, including the drive to T-Mobile Arena.
For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Updated April 22, 2018