Cris Collinsworth wondered during the Super Bowl last Sunday how many Pittsburgh fans were upset, even though the season had ended nearly a month ago for their beloved Steelers. The announcer was referring to the two controversial sacks that generated video reviews, only for the Philadelphia Eagles’ touchdowns to be confirmed.
Their opponents, the New England Patriots, had benefited from a similar overhaul in Week Seventeen, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were denied a touchdown pass after a call was reversed after a fairly long replay.
Collinsworth may have been right about Steelers fans being upset about those confirmed calls, but two nights later, thousands of Pittsburgh fans were literally in tears. The excitement did not come during a football game, but rather during an expected hockey game.
The occasion was the return of future Hall of Fame goaltender Mark Andre Fleury, who helped lead the Penguins to three Stanley Cup championships. Due to last year’s expansion in the National Hockey League, Fleury missed out on 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 PPG Arena in a different uniform than the Penguins. It was, without a doubt, an emotional return home.
During a break in the first half of the first period, the video board showed some of Fleury’s career highlights as he defended the net for the Penguins. Then the crowd rose to their feet in his honor in a standing ovation that lasted almost ten minutes. The Pittsburgh announcer claimed there wasn’t 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 shield.
It’s not hard to understand the love between fans and their longtime goalie who, unlike most player departures, wasn’t traded or sent to free agency. Pittsburgh really had no choice but to lose Fleury in the expansion draft, limiting the Penguins to protecting just one goalie on the roster. The team wisely chose to protect Matt Murray, who is younger and believes he will be around for a long time.
Murray will have to stay a long time if he can hope to break any of the team records Fleury set during his tenure, aside from the three Stanley Cups. He beats the Penguins in most games, he scored a goal in 691 battles on the ice. Fleury’s 375 wins are also a team record, as is his 44 shutouts.
That night it looked for thirty minutes as if Fleury was going to shut out his former teammates, as his Golden Knights led two-nil with only ten minutes left in the second period. Pittsburgh’s Ryan Reaves then fired 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 all three NHL championships. At the end of sixty minutes, Pittsburgh had emerged victorious with a five-to-four victory.
However, the two teams could very well lock themselves in a much bigger series again at the end of the season, given their respective standings in the standings. Las Vegas currently sits atop the Pacific Division and Pittsburgh ranks second in the Metropolitan, meaning Fleury could face his old team in the Stanley Cup Finals.