Marc-Andre Fleury is a special human being. There has never been a bad word said about the smiling goaltender, except by opposing players and by teammates on the receiving end of classic Fleury pranks. On Thursday night, Fleury reached a milestone only two others had reached when he won his 500th NHL game.
Fleury and the Chicago Blackhawks shut out the Montreal Canadiens, 2-0.
It’s a long way from the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NHL draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a long way from rough moments in the 2004 World Junior Championships and struggles with a nearly bankrupt Pittsburgh team before Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin arrived.
It’s been an arduous year for Fleury. He felt betrayed by the Vegas Golden Knights when ownership assured him he would not be traded, then Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon traded him last summer. He contemplated his future before reporting to the Chicago Blackhawks. At 36-years-old, he momentarily considered putting the pillows on the shelf.
I’m glad he didn’t. I covered Fleury as an 18-year-old rookie with Pittsburgh and covered much of his career. I was on the ice when Fleury took one good skate with the 2017 Stanley Cup. He led the team to the Eastern Conference Final before head coach Mike Sullivan benched him after a shaky period in Game 3 vs. Ottawa. He didn’t regain the net as Matt Murray finished the ECF and the Stanley Cup Final.
Fleury teared up as he talked with Pittsburgh Hockey Now shortly after handing off the Stanley Cup and heading for the dressing room. You can read the story here.
Fleury persevered through getting snubbed in Vegas and the infamous Allan Walsh tweet depicting a sword through Fleury’s back when head coach Pete DeBoer started Robin Lehner in the playoffs. Fleury endured through the indignity of being traded for almost nothing.
Sometimes it seems being one of the good guys worked against Fleury.
But there have also been three Stanley Cups, including an immortalized save in the waning seconds of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final on Hall of Fame defenceman Niclas Lidstrom. We all witnessed the shock and rowdy enthusiasm of leading the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018.
The 2021 Vezina Trophy.
Fleury has earned millions of adoring fans and dozens of fiercely loyal teammates who remain loyal beyond their time together. They remain loyal even after he hung their clothes from the arena rafters or moved all the contents of their hotel room into the hallway. And especially after he hid in a hockey bag to scare teammates.
And now Fleury is immortalized among the greats with win No. 500. He trails only Patrick Roy (551) and Martin Brodeur (691). Fleury has a better career save percentage (.913) than both.
The folks in Toronto will be criminals if he’s not a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
And Thursday night at the Bell Centre, his hometown fans provided a little love in return. The Canadiens fans roared for their native son despite the Canadiens’ loss. Fleury! Fleury! They chanted and delivered a standing ovation as Chicago Blackhawks teammates mobbed Fleury to celebrate.
Fleury provides neverending positive energy in a miserable year full of scandal and losing. And the hockey gods delivered a special moment, and so too did the Montreal Canadiens fans. Merci.