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 that Steelers fans were upset by those confirmed calls, but two nights later, thousands of Pittsburgh fans were literally crying. The excitement did not come during a soccer game, but rather during an expected hockey game.
The occasion was the return of future Hall of Fame goalkeeper Mark Andre Fleury, who helped lead the Penguins to three Stanley Cup championships. Due to last year’s expansion into 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 homecoming.
During a break in the first half of the first period, the video board showed some of the highlights of Fleury’s career as he defended the net for the Penguins. The crowd then stood up in his honor in a standing ovation that lasted almost ten minutes. The Pittsburgh announcer claimed there wasn’t a dry eye in the entire venue, 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 the fans and their longtime goalkeeper who, unlike most player outings, was not 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 even hope to break the team records Fleury set during his tenure, in addition to the three Stanley Cups. He outscores the Penguins in most games, scoring in 691 battles on ice. Fleury’s 375 wins are also a team record, as are his 44 shutouts.
That night it seemed for thirty minutes as if Fleury was going to shut out his former teammates, as his Golden Knights led two to zero with just ten minutes remaining in the second period. Pittsburgh’s Ryan Reaves then fired one that overtook Fleury and Ian Cole tied 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. By the end of sixty minutes, Pittsburgh had been victorious with a five-to-four victory.
However, the two teams could very well be locked into a much bigger series again at the end of the season, given their respective positions in the standings. Las Vegas is currently at the top of the Pacific Division and Pittsburgh is second in the Metropolitan, meaning Fleury could face his old team in the Stanley Cup finals.