Three players, three different positions, the same junior league. A trio of French-Canadian players drafted and developed by the Pittsburgh Penguins were key to their first Stanley Cup since the early 90s, and each had their own special motivation.
G Marc-Andre Fleury
Born: 28/11/1984 (24)
Selected: 1st round, 1st overall (2003)
2008-09 Playoffs: 16-8-0, 2.61 GAA, 0.909 Sv%
Being a high-paid athlete is the dream occupation of millions of young men the world over. From the outside, things can look great. But inside, the same forces that drive the lucky few to succeed can tear them apart. Marc-Andre Fleury knows what that's like. Despite being a former top pick and now multi-millionaire, the one thing no one can buy- a championship- had haunted him throughout his career.Until yesterday.
Let us count the ways:
2003 World Junior Championships: To Fleury's credit, there was little more he could do in the Gold Medal match- or the tournament, for that matter- as Canada fell 3-2 to the Russians. However, that the winning goal came a) with under ten minutes to go and b) after squandering a 2-1 lead planted the seed for 2004.
2004 World Junior Championships: By now, almost every hockey fan is well-aware of the debacle that was 2004. Up 3-1 against Team USA by the mid-point of the game, Canada looked to be in cruise control for Gold. But some sloppy play set the stage for a tied game and one of the most embarrassing plays in hockey history. Fleury's seeming inability to win was latched onto and shaken for all it was worth in the wake of the 4-3 loss.
2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Every rookie encounters jitters in their first playoff appearance, and it's unfair to think otherwise about goalies. But as Pittsburgh's starter since the previous year, more was expected of Fleury as the eventual finalist Ottawa Senators rolled to an easy five-game series win. Fleury started all five games, and his final stats were not pretty: along with a 3.76 GAA, he failed to stop more than 88% of the shots directed his way.
2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs: The Pens and Fleury seemed to have righted the ship as the young team blossomed during last spring's playoffs. Fleury's strong play early and the work of Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa helped the Pens reach the Finals for first time in 16 years. Fleury, in particular, look unbeatable, allowing just twelve goals combined during the Eastern Quarters and Finals. But again, those hopes were crushed; while Fleury had little run support early in the series, a number of soft goals ultimately stole what little momentum the Penguins could generate. In a stunning stat, 'MAF' allowed 17 goals in the Finals.
Game 5 of the Finals looked to be the beginning of the end once again for Fleury; however, his heroics in Games 6 and 7- particularly in the final moments of last night's contest- vanquished his reputation as a big-game failure.
D Kris Letang
Born: 4/24/1987 (22)
Selected: 3rd round, 62nd overall (2005)