Cris Collinsworth wondered during the Super Bowl last Sunday how many Pittsburgh fans were upset, even though the season had ended almost a month ago for their beloved Steelers. The announcer was referring to the two controversial catches that drew video reviews, only to be upheld touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Their opponents, the New England Patriots, had reeled the benefit of a similar review back in week seventeen, when the Pittsburgh Steelers had been denied a touchdown pass after a call had been reverse after a rather lengthy replay.
Collinsworth may have been right about Steelers fans being upset about those upheld calls, but two nights later thousands of Pittsburgh fans were literally in tears. The emotion came not during a football game, but rather a long anticipated hockey match.
The occasion was the return of future Hall of Fame goalie Mark Andre Fleury, who helped lead the Penguins to three Stanley Cup championships. Because of last year’s expansion in the National Hockey League, Fleury was lost to Pittsburgh when he was drafted by the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
On Tuesday, February 6 Las Vegas played its first game in Pittsburgh, marking Fleury’s first appearance at the PPG Arena in a uniform other than the Penguins. It was, undoubtedly, an emotional homecoming.
During a break in the first half of period one, the video board displayed some of the career highlights of Fleury while he defended the net for the Penguins. Then the crowd stood in his honor in an ovation that lasted almost ten minutes. The Pittsburgh announcer stated that there was not a dry eye in the whole place, just as the camera showed Fleury himself with a tear on his cheek visible through his Las Vegas face guard.
It is not difficult to understand the love between the fans and their long time goaltender who, unlike most player departures, was neither traded nor bolted for free agency. Pittsburgh really had no choice but to lose Fleury in the expansion draft, which limited the Penguins to protecting just one goalie on the roster. The team wisely chose to protect Matt Murray, who is younger and figures to be around for the long haul.
Murray will have to stay around a very long time if he can even hope to break so!e of the team records Fleury established in his tenure, in addition to the three Stanley Cups. He tops the Penguins in most games, tended goal in 691 battles on the ice. Fleury’s 375 wins are also a team record, as are his 44 shutouts.
That night of looked for thirty minutes as if Fleury was going to shut out his former teammates, as his Golden Knights led two to nothing with just ten minutes remaining in period two. Pittsburgh’s Ryan Reaves then shot one past Fleury, and Ian Cole tied it a few minutes later.
The Penguins got additional goals from Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, two stars who had helped Fleury win the three NHL championships. At the end of sixty minutes, Pittsburgh had proven victorious with a five to four win.
However, the two teams could very well lock up again in a much more important series at the end of the season,given their respective positions in the standings. Las Vegas currently sits atop the Pacific Division and Pittsburgh is second in the Metropolitan, meaning that Fleury could be facing his old team in the Stanley Cup finals.