Dean Evason doubled down on Flower Power following a deflating 4-0 loss in Game 1 on Monday, even when it seemed like the only logical choice was to turn to his other goaltender, Cam Talbot, for Game 2. After all, that’s how he’d deployed his goalies once Bill Guerin acquired Marc-Andre Fleury in March. Fleury and Talbot steadily alternated starts for most of the remainder of the regular season. However, this is no longer the regular season, and Fleury provided that reminder in last night’s thrilling victory over the St. Louis Blues.
Fleury didn’t steal Game 2, but only because his team didn’t need him to. However, he provided a glimpse of what to expect should the Wild need a throwback Fleury performance to steal a game this series. His teammates in front of him did a fantastic job getting out to a 4-0 lead by the early portions of the middle period. Still, it wasn’t an easy cruise to the finish line from there. Give the Blues credit — they pushed and pushed continuously, even at 5 on 5. Yet Fleury gave them nothing to grasp onto.
There were two particular moments where the Wild desperately needed Fleury to stand on his head, and he did just that.
The first came shortly after the Wild extended their lead to 4-0. From the moment Joel Eriksson Ek scored the Wild’s fourth goal 51 seconds into the second period, the Blues pushed for some sort of momentum to begin a comeback. It was then that Fleury blossomed into vintage form.
The save above may not have seemed so significant at the time. The Wild were steamrolling the Blues with the first four goals. But you knew the longer the Wild held a considerable lead, the better. That may seem obvious but remember: This series is between two of the five best offensive teams in the NHL. In a year where the NHL saw more comebacks from multiple goals down than any year in the salary cap era, 4-0 was certainly not a sure thing. It was imperative Fleury kept the Blues contained, even as they controlled most of the play in the second and third periods.
St. Louis eventually chipped away at Minnesota’s lead, putting the game in doubt with two goals. Thanks to their dominant power play and the referee’s calls oscillating back towards the Wild, plenty of time remained for the Blues’ high octane offense to possibly tie the game.
The Blues got that chance when Eriksson Ek marched to the penalty box just 90 seconds after the game became 4-2. The St. Louis power play went to work once again. And yet again, Fleury was back to his acrobatic ways, swiping a golden opportunity from Brayden Schenn.
It was easily the save of the game and a reminder why Minnesota’s net belongs to Fleury these playoffs. While Talbot’s floor may be higher than Fleury’s, the latter’s ceiling is what can get the Wild to their ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup. One loss on Monday wasn’t going to change their plans, as evidenced by Evason’s comments before and after the game.
“You know he’s going to respond properly,” Evason said regarding the decision to start Fleury. “It’s what he does. It’s how he does it. That’s why we got him here. And he clearly is a world-class goaltender that’s won Stanley Cups. And my gosh, if you don’t think he’s been through a game that maybe the odd bounce didn’t go our way, landed on their tape or whatever, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t bother him.”
It sounds like the Wild are set on riding Fleury as far as he can take them, even if there are a few bumps in the road, and it’s 100% the correct choice. The Wild may get past the Blues in Round 1, but a far superior Colorado Avalanche team likely awaits them in the second round. A merely capable goaltender won’t get them past the juggernaut that is the Avs, but the Fleury we saw last night just might.
The Minnesota weather is finally rounding into shape. Get outside this weekend and get your gardens started – the frost won’t stop them anymore. It’s Flower season, folks.