Prankster and competitor: wild keeper Fleury is a winning combination

Before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2009, Marc-André Fleury leaned a garbage can filled with water against the door of the hotel room next to his in Detroit.

Seriously.

Get it: Fleury was trying to take a nap before the face-off, but the then-Pittsburgh goaltender was woken up by the noise of his neighbors.

“Some people have fun,” he said.

Thus, he performed a trick common in hockey. Fleury positioned the trash can, knocked on the door, and walked away before water spilled into the hallway. Then he hit the rink, saved 23 of 24 shots and won a title – but not before seeking revenge.

“I was just like, ‘I have to get these guys back,'” Fleury said.

The Wild brought in a three-time champion, the defending Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goaltender and a Hall of Fame shoo-in to boost their chances in the playoffs, which begin Monday night against the Blues at the Xcel Energy Center.

But the team has also acquired a handy prankster nicknamed “Flower” who talks at the goal post and wears flashy gear.

It is a whole, the spice and the competence, because this charisma is essential to the success of Fleury.

“I feel like maybe I play better when I’m having fun,” he said.

‘Born to be a goalkeeper’

The emotion Fleury brings to working with him is the same reaction he had when he started out as a goalie.

He was young, like 6 or 7, and after struggling to score, he tried the other goal in hockey and ended up liking the equipment and diving on the ice.

As a Canadiens fan growing up an hour from Montreal, Fleury watched Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, and their styles influenced the way he played.

“Very instinctive,” said Wild defenseman Alex Goligoski, who was a Fleury teammate with the Penguins. “Very athletic and natural. He was born to be a goalkeeper, that’s for sure. Maybe more than probably anyone in the league, just a very natural athlete there.

Like Roy, Fleury drops to his knees to use the butterfly technique and he has the same unpredictability that Brodeur deployed, with poke shots and a two-cushion stack.

Case in point: Fleury’s favorite save of his career came in Game 7 with Pittsburgh in 2009 when, in the final seconds, he slid into the crease before falling to his right to block a Nicklas Lidstrom shot and preserve a result of 2-1.

“Because it was a little different,” he said, “and we won too.”

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Winning is the norm for Fleury.

Even before reaching the NHL, he stood out in the junior ranks and on the international scene for Canada. The Penguins drafted him first overall in 2003 and two years later he was starting the bulk of their games while building one of hockey’s most renowned careers.

“He’s like the Energizer Bunny,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. “He doesn’t seem to stop. He’s a real pro.”

Fleury ranks third in NHL history in wins (520) and is tied for 12th in shutouts (71) while recording the seventh most games (939).

The four-time All-Star selection also boasts nine 30-win seasons, a consistency that follows only its two role models and Henrik Lundqvist, and Fleury is equally elite when it comes to the playoffs. His 90 wins are fourth and his 16 shutouts are tied for third. He made the third most appearances at 162.

“He’s such a competitor,” said Goligoski, who considers Fleury the toughest goaltender to score in practice. “No matter the game, he never gives up a puck. He will never blame a defender for a breakdown. He thinks he should save every puck.

After lifting the Stanley Cup in 2009, Fleury also won back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017 with Pittsburgh. Wild general manager Bill Guerin shared those trophies with Fleury, first as a teammate and then from the front office.

Their meeting, orchestrated by Guérin and authorized by Fleury who had to waive a no-trade clause in his contract, was finalized on March 21 before the NHL trade deadline.

The Wild were already one of the best teams in the league, but mainly because of their high-scoring offense. So Guerin separated the Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen tandem by sending Kahkonen to San Jose and adding Chicago’s Fleury in exchange for a draft pick. (The first round will be downgraded to a second if the Wild don’t advance to the Western Conference Finals and Fleury hasn’t won at least four games by then.)

The results so far?

As expected, the 37-year-old is 9-2 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

But Fleury didn’t just show skill with the Wild; he also showcased his personality, which is nothing new for him.

“Marc, I think his biggest asset as a goalkeeper, as a goalkeeper, was his demeanor, his laid-back attitude,” said Max Talbot, who knew Fleury for more than 20 years after playing against him in minor hockey before becoming his teammate with the Penguins. “He comes to work every day with a big smile on his face.

“Yes, he puts pressure on himself to be the best he can be. But I also think he always takes things into perspective, that he’s grateful to play hockey, that he brings joy to the team he plays with.

fun and games

Marcus Foligno always checks his helmet before grabbing it from his locker to make sure Fleury hasn’t placed a cup of water in there to throw on his head.

“Good idea,” Fleury said when he heard about it.

The first prank he pulled off with the Wild was in Montreal two weeks ago when Fleury put shaving cream in the towels. After Matt Boldy mocked Goligoski for being impersonated, Boldy wiped his face and got a surprise as well.

“It worked,” Fleury said.

He chose metallic gold pads to match the beige of the Wild logo, and the open-mouthed beast on his mask resembles the look Andy Moog had with the Bruins in the 1990s. That’s right, a childhood fan des Canadiens also had an affinity for Montreal’s arch-rival goalie.

“I love goaltenders,” Fleury said. “Always watch them. Whenever I watch a game on TV, I just watch the goalkeeper. I don’t care what happens.”

Before hitting the ice, he chats with his teammates and enjoys listening to their stories.

“A future Hall of Famer, just his resume, it’s so amazing,” Foligno said. “You think he would be more serious, and he might not want to talk on match days. Not at all.”

Fleury is also talkative during the action.

“It’s lonely sometimes,” he said.

But he doesn’t just communicate with his teammates. He thanks the post for making a save he didn’t, a habit he picked up after reading in the paper that Roy did.

Even between pucks, Fleury has a sense of humor.

“We all have our mechanism,” Guerin said, “and I think it’s his.”

Such an attitude can have a positive impact on the players in front of him.

“It calms you down because it’s a pressure situation, especially in the playoffs,” Foligno said. “He’s not fazed by it. He makes jokes, and you’re like, ‘Oh, okay. It’s all quiet now.’ “

And when Fleury makes a key save, a boulder that ignites the crowd, he has fun.

“He loves life and has fun playing, and he’s very good at it,” Guerin said. “You need This.”

Always motivated

The last time the Wild made the playoffs, Fleury was the one to knock the team out in the first round, posting a blistering 1.71 goals-against average and .931 save percentage to go along with a shutout in as Vegas MVP in those seven-game series.

What a difference a year makes.

After being traded harshly by the Golden Knights to the Blackhawks this summer, Fleury supported a rebuilding team until getting a new season deal with the Wild.

“I’m very lucky to have this opportunity,” he said.

Fleury doesn’t need to be here or anywhere else in the NHL. His place in hockey lore is already locked in, one of the best ever as a goaltender.

But that’s also why he’s still here, to claim the Stanley Cup again.

“Just win another one,” Fleury said. “It’s such a good feeling because it’s so difficult, isn’t it? Such a battle. So many teams and guys are fighting to get there.

“And once you’ve done that and you can grab her and kiss her, there’s no feeling like that, right?”

Fleury would know.

“It’s always about getting the next one.”

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