Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t help it. With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ franchise record for career shutouts in sight late in the third period against the New York Rangers on Saturday, the talented if occasionally erratic goalie let his mind drift.
“I wanted it so bad,” Fleury said. “I tried to not jinx it. I was touching wood, but yeah I was looking forward to getting it finally.”
The reeling Rangers offered little resistance.
Fleury stopped 23 shots for his 23rd shutout — one more than Tom Barrasso — and the Penguins beat New York 3-0 for their eighth straight victory.
Beau Bennett, Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy scored, and Dustin Jeffrey added two assists as the Penguins continued to dominate the series.
Pittsburgh has won seven consecutive meetings with New York, which lost for the fourth time in its last five games. Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves for the Rangers, but New York failed to score for the third time this season. The Rangers, the best team in the Eastern Conference last spring, trail Pittsburgh by 14 points with six weeks left in the regular season and currently find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
“It’s gut check time pretty much,” New York defenseman Dan Girardi said. “We’ve got to figure out what’s going on here and play with some serious desperation. We’re falling in the standings here.”
The Penguins continued to head in the opposite direction. Pittsburgh is in firm control of the Atlantic Division and in a race with Boston and Montreal for the conference’s best record thanks in part to a suddenly responsible defense.
The league’s most potent attack has a tendency to get a little loose with the puck from time to time, flubbing away turnovers that frequently put Fleury and backup Tomas Vokoun into tight spots. Those problems have disappeared in the last week. Pittsburgh has given up only four goals in its last four games and Fleury insists it’s not just by accident.
“For a while there we gave up a lot of goals but I think everybody kind of tightened up and we’re more conscious of our defensive zone, guys blocking shots and coming back in the zone to help out,” he said. “It’s been great for us.”
Fleury has been pretty good in his own right. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft is 10-1 in his last 11 decisions and has back-to-back shutouts against the Rangers.
Then again, the Rangers hardly put up much of a fight. New York didn’t record a shot for the game’s first 10 minutes and save for a brief burst at the start of the second period spent most of the game on its heels while losing its third straight. The Rangers have scored just two goals during the skid.