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I've been a card-carrying, devout member of Team Fleury, just short of getting a t-shirt and a tattoo. In my world, this ongoing goalie debate has been more controversial than the upcoming presidential election. I look at my Twitter feed and instinctively divide it into who's Team Fleury and Team Murray. That's how I see the world right now. In 29 and 30.
But that's part of the problem. Going back to Murray rather than staying with Fleury will eliminate some of the chatter. The goalie decision (I'm hesitant to use the word controversy here) has been the prevailing narrative in this series. That and the performance of the star players. I can't imagine what a distraction that would be for them and the team. Murray and Fleury are the consummate professionals and teammates. They don't get ruffled very easily. But you've got to believe that they've always got that in the back of their minds. That there's a phenomenal goalie waiting in the wings ready to get back in the net.
Going back to Murray will squash some of that. He's been the steady netminder getting us through the playoffs. His play has dropped off these last few games, but he's been solid and still has a .923 save percentage. The Pens did not lose Game 5 because of Fleury. The Pens have been terrible when playing with a lead in the last two series, and Kris "-4" Letang looked like a spectator in front of some of those goals. Fleury doesn't deserve to be vilified for his play.
But as sharp as Fleury looked on some of those saves, especially the toe save, the rust was showing. Going back and watching some of the goals, his reaction time was noticeably slower. He still looked better than a number of goalies in this league, but he was not playing up to our high Fleury standards. He looked like he did the first few games after the All-Star break in January. He had been playing lights out going into the break. Coming out of the break he looked like he hadn't been playing for a month rather than a week. It took a few games for him to get going again. With Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, we don't have the luxury of time.
As a steadfast Fleury supporter, it kills me that this could be the end of his Penguins legacy. Barring some kind of Murray disaster, I can't see how the Penguins don't try to move him in the off-season. From a sentimental fan standpoint, that sucks. For the first four months of this season, Marc-Andre Fleury carried this team. This wasn't Sid's team or Geno's team, this was Fleury's team. He's the biggest reason the Pens were able to be in the position to fight for the playoffs. For his season to end this way, because of a concussion from a James Neal shot when his helmet straps were loose, is heartbreaking. I'm not ready to lose this franchise goalie.
Look at it this way. Fleury playing at the end of Game 4 and Game 5 might be the best thing that happened to Matt Murray. His deteriorating play could've been caused by fatigue. For as much as we talk about how young he is, we also tend to forget how young he is. He's one day shy of his 22nd birthday. He's mature beyond his years, but he only played in 13 games this season not including the playoffs, less than a fifth of an NHL season. That extra day off could be just what he needed to take the Pens to the Stanley Cup Finals.