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Jokester and competitor: Wild goalie Fleury is a winning combination

Before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2009 Marc-Andre Fleury was leaning a garbage can filled with water against the door of the hotel room next to his in Detroit.

Seriously.

Get this: Fleury was trying to nap before puck drop, but the then-Pittsburgh goaltender was woken up by the noise from his neighbors.

“Some people having fun,” he said.

So, I have executed a common trick in hockey. Fleury positioned the bin, knocked on the door and walked away before water spilled over the entryway. Then, he went to the rink, saved 23 of 24 shots and won a title — but not before seeking revenge.

“I was just thinking, ‘I gotta get these guys back,'” Fleury said.

The Wild brought in a three-time champion, the reigning Vezina Trophy recipient as the NHL’s top goalie and a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame to increase their chances in the playoffs, which begin Monday night against the Blues at Xcel Energy Center.

But the team also acquired a practical jokester nicknamed “Flower” who talks to the goal post and wears flashy gear.

They’re a package deal, the pizazz and the proficiency, because that charisma is fundamental to Fleury’s success.

“I feel like I play maybe better when I’m having fun,” he said.

‘Born to be a goalie’

The emotion Fleury brings to work with him is the same reaction he had when he started being a goalie.

He was young, like 6 or 7 years old, and after he struggled to score, he tried the other objective in hockey and ended up liking the equipment and diving around the ice.

As a Canadiens fan growing up an hour outside Montreal, Fleury watched Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, and their styles influenced the way he played.

“Very instinctual,” said Wild defenseman Alex Goligoski, who was a teammate of Fleury with the Penguins. “Very just athletic and natural. He was born to be a goalie, for sure. Maybe more so than anyone in the league probably, just a very natural athlete back there.”

Like Roy, Fleury drops to his knees to use the butterfly technique and he has the same unpredictability that Brodeur deployed, with poke checks and a two-pad stack.

Case in point: Fleury’s favorite stop of his career came in that Game 7 with Pittsburgh back in 2009 when in the final seconds he slid across the crease before falling to his right to block a Nicklas Lidstrom shot and preserve a 2-1 outcome.

“Because it was a little different,” he said, “and we won, too.”

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Winning is the norm for Fleury.

Even before he reached the NHL, he was a standout in the junior ranks and internationally for Canada. The Penguins drafted him first overall in 2003 and two years later, he was starting the bulk of their games while building one of the most reputable careers in hockey.

“He’s like the Energizer bunny,” Montreal goalie Carey Price said. “He doesn’t seem to stop. He’s a true pro.”

Fleury ranks third in NHL history in victories (520) and is tied for 12th in shutouts (71) while logging the seventh-most games (939).

The four-time All-Star Game selection also has nine 30-win seasons, a consistency that trails only his two role models and Henrik Lundqvist, and Fleury is just as elite when it comes to the playoffs. His 90 victories of him are fourth, and the 16 shutouts he’s recorded are tied for third. He’s made the third-most appearances at 162.

“He’s just such a competitor,” said Goligoski, who considers Fleury the hardest goalie to score on in practice. “No matter the game, he never gives up on a puck. He’s never going to blame a defenseman on a breakdown. He thinks he should save every puck.”

After hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2009, Fleury also captured back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017 with Pittsburgh. Sharing those trophies with Fleury, first as a teammate and then from the front office, was Wild General Manager Bill Guerin.

Their meeting, orchestrated by Guerin and green-lighted by Fleury who had to waive a no-trade clause in his contract, was finalized on March 21 before the NHL trade deadline.

The Wild was already one of the better teams in the league but mostly due to its high-scoring offense. So, Guerin split up the Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen tandem by sending Kahkonen to San Jose and adding Fleury from Chicago in exchange for a draft pick. (The first-rounder will downgrade to a second if the Wild doesn’t advance to the Western Conference Final and Fleury hasn’t won at least four games by then.)

The results so far?

As expected, with the 37-year-old going 9-2 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

But Fleury hasn’t just flexed his skill with the Wild; he’s also showcased his personality, which is nothing new for him.

“Marc, I think his biggest asset as a goalie, as a netminder, was his demeanor, his loose demeanor,” said Max Talbot, who has known Fleury 20-plus years after playing against him in minor hockey before becoming his teammate with the Penguins. “He comes to work every day with a big smile on his face.

“Yes, he puts pressure on himself to be the best he can be. But also I think that he always takes things in perspective where he’s grateful to be playing hockey, that he brings joy to the team he’s playing with.”

fun and games

Marcus Foligno always checks his helmet before grabbing it from his locker to make sure Fleury hasn’t placed a cup of water in there to be dumped on his head.

“Good idea,” Fleury said when he heard about that.

The first prank he performed with the Wild was in Montreal two weeks ago when Fleury put shaving cream in the towels. After Matt Boldy laughed at Goligoski for getting spoofed, Boldy wiped his face and also received a surprise.

“That worked out,” Fleury said.

He picked metallic gold pads to match the beige in the Wild logo, and the open-mouthed beast on his mask is like the look Andy Moog had with the Bruins in the 1990s. That’s right, a childhood Canadiens fan also had an affinity for the netminder from Montreal’s archrival.

“I love goalies,” Fleury said. “Always watch them. Every time I watch a game on TV, I just watch the goalie. I don’t care about what’s happening.”

Before taking the ice, he’ll chat with teammates and likes to listen to their stories.

“A future Hall of Famer, just his resume, it’s so unbelievable,” Foligno said. “You think he’d be more serious, and he might not want to talk on game days. Not at all.”

Fleury is also talkative during the action.

“It gets lonely sometimes,” he said.

But he doesn’t just communicate with his teammates. He thanks the post for making a save he didn’t, a habit he adopted after reading in the newspaper that Roy did that.

Even in between getting peppered with pucks, Fleury has a sense of humor.

“We all have our mechanism,” Guerin said, “and I think that’s his.”

An attitude like that can have a positive impact on the players in front of him.

“It settles you down because it’s such a pressure situation, especially come playoffs,” Foligno said. “He doesn’t get fazed by it. He’s cracking jokes, and you’re like, ‘Oh, OK. Everything’s calm now.’ “

And when Fleury makes a highlight-reel stop, a block that ignites the crowd, he enjoys it.

“Loves life and has fun playing the game, and he’s real good at that,” Guerin said. “You need that.”

Still motivated

The last time the Wild was in the playoffs Fleury was the one who eliminated the team in the first round, posting a mind-boggling 1.71 goals-against average and .931 save percentage to go along with a shutout as Vegas’ MVP in that seven -gameseries.

What a difference a year makes.

After getting unceremoniously traded by the Golden Knights to the Blackhawks in the summer, Fleury backstopped a rebuilding team until getting a new lease on the season with the Wild.

“I’m very lucky to have this opportunity,” he said.

Fleury doesn’t have to be here or anywhere else in the NHL. His spot of him in hockey lore is already locked up, one of the best to ever be a goaltender.

But that’s also why he is still here, to claim the Stanley Cup again.

“Just win another one,” Fleury said. “It’s such a good feeling because it’s so hard, right? Such a battle. So many teams and guys fighting to get there.

“And once you do and you can grab it and kiss it, there’s no feeling like that, right?”

Fleury would know.

“It’s always about getting the next one.”

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