COLUMN: Nothing could’ve ruined Fleury’s night

On one of the most emotional night’s in team history, the Penguins potted five goals behind Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Wow, what a weird sentence that has become. Fleury’s team lost 5-4 in his return to Pittsburgh for the first time since being taken in the expansion draft last summer.

Despite losing, Fleury’s night will be one he forever remembers.

Fleury returned to PPG Paints Arena and was given a thunderous ovation on every opportunity they had. Pregame, after big saves, and most notably before, during, and after his video tribute. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, here it is:

Man, it was moving. It was powerful. It was everything it should’ve been and more. Nothing stands out like the reaction Fleury had.

The AT&T SportsNet feed caught Fleury wiping way tears while he received a gratifying ovation and thunderous “Fleury! Fleury!” chants. It was such a cool moment to watch. Not one dry eye was in the arena.

“It was just amazing,” Fleury said following the game. “The support I’ve gotten over the years is just incredible. I thank everybody for all these years and once again showing up tonight with such great support.”

One of the most genuine human beings I never had the opportunity to meet, Fleury loves playing in Vegas. He loves being a huge reason why they’re the second best team in the league. But there is no question Pittsburgh is his home. There is no question he has forever endeared himself to the franchise’s lure and fans.

Fleury genuinely enjoyed the warmups when he was loudly and largely welcomed onto the ice.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Fleury said. “In warmups, I had goosebumps. Before the game, people with signs and kind words. It’s a night I won’t forget, except maybe the score.”

No one ever wants to lose, but losing to the team that selected you 1st overall in 2003 with a ton of friends on that team after the fans gave you the warmest “welcome back” possibly in team history, you probably don’t beat yourself up as much.

The Penguins have always done an exceptional job when it comes to the video tributes and fans always receive guys well. It was also good on AT&T SportsNet for sticking with the video and showing it to those of us unfortunate fans who didn’t want to pay upwards of $150 to see the game and the moment in person.

Some of Fleury’s best friends, Sidney Crosby and Ian Cole, weighed in on seeing Fleury again and what it was like to see him receive the welcome he got.

Said Crosby: “It was just an incredible ovation. You don’t ever want to say you expect that, you don’t see it very often. But that being said, you knew it was going to be a warm welcome and happy for Flower. I knew it was one he circled on his calendar.”

Said Cole: “Seeing Flower is huge. You saw how emotional he was when he got the cheers he did and saw the admiration the Pittsburgh fans had for him. I think every bit of it he has earned and deserved.”

The Penguins didn’t do him any favors, though. Vegas is in a good spot, leading the Western Conference in fact, and didn’t need to win this game as much as they wanted to. The Penguins, however, are fighting for the playoff lives and likely will be for the vast majority of their remaining games.

Fleury had a 2-0 lead before Ryan Reaves, of all people, scored to open the scoring.

“He knows how everyone shoots,” Reaves said. “I guess he doesn’t know my change-up with the eyes closed. I guess that worked.”

The flood gates opened from their as Cole, Malkin, Kessel, and Guentzel all added tallies. Fleury saw first-hand how talented and scary the Penguins can be.

“They’re very talented, very fast,” Fleury said. “They’re able to create some time and space for themselves to get some goals.”

Everyone went home pretty happy Tuesday night as The Penguins won, Fleury was honored, and the franchise’s winningest goaltender can now focus on what it will take to make a run at the Stanley Cup with his most emotional game behind him.

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