Fleury scores winner in shootout
A Hollywood script for Fleury's return to the NHL
At midnight on Thursday Theo Fleury was able to celebrate the fourth anniversary of his sobriety day -- the day he decided to give up alcohol and get his life back.
A few hours before that anniversary he got to play hockey in the National Hockey League, something that had been a huge part of his life prior to his personal battles.
It had been six years since he had been on this stage but Fleury, 41 and attempting a comeback, was back on the ice where it all began for him so many years, so many miles ago.
In a Flames uniform. No. 14. On Saddledome ice. In front of a friendly crowd that chanted 'T-H-E-O, T-H-E-O' on his first shift of the game.
That was just the beginning. The script couldn't have been written any better.
Fleury won the game for the Flames in the shootout and received a standing ovation. He was the only player to score, using a deke to the forehand, to beat Kevin Poulin and seal a 5-4 win.
"The way my life has gone I wasn't surprised that it went to overtime and went to a shootout," said Fleury, surrounded by media after the game. "It was special for anyone who has been a fan of mine and anyone who has supported me."
No matter what becomes of this return to the NHL for Fleury, this game will have been special -- Fleury's face on the bench, awash in happiness and smiles, said it all. He had played in the NHL, he had scored and he had taken a penalty: "I blew on that guy and he fell over," said Fleury of the hooking call.
"It was great to be back in the 'Dome. It took a little while to get going. I thought I played OK. I thought our line played good. We didn't get into trouble. You have to play within the system and when you get a chance to you go on the offence," he said.
That Fleury got the tap for the shootout was partly because of his teammates.
"It was pretty unanimous on the bench," said head coach Brent Sutter. "the players al wanted him to shoot. It was the right thing to do. It's a day-to-day process (with Fleury). I thought he played okay."
Fleury joked that he could become a new breed in the NHL.
"Maybe I can beomce the first shootout specialist in NHL history," he laughed.
Fleury was on the ice for the Flames first goal of the game, courtesy Nigel Dawes, and then had a decent scoring chance with a wrister off the wing in the early going of the second period.
Fleury looked okay on the offensive zone but appeared to be trying too hard -- read looked unnatural -- when it came to the defensive systems at times. But hey, nobody expected perfection after a six-year absence, right? And, truth be told, he got better as the game went on, even getting a good scoring chance late in the third period.
For the most part he was on a line with Daymond Langkow and Dawes, who had a three-point game. There were plenty of penalties and fights that led to some line juggling throughout the game.
With 14:25 remaining in the second period Islander Kyle Okposo was decked in the neutral zone by Flames d-man Dion Phaneuf. The hit left Okposo dazed enough that he was removed from the ice on a stretcher and started a huge line melee that saw both goalies leave the crease.
Pascal Morency left the Islander bench and immediately went after Phaneuf. The pair never squared off but Phaneuf received a minor for roughing while Morency received a double minor for roughing and a game misconduct.
There was no immediate word on Okposo's injury although the Flames said that the indications were that he would be okay.
"When he sees that on the ice he has to take it," said head coach Brent Sutter. "You don't want to see people get hurt but Dion can't pass up that hit. That's a big part of his game. He is a physical defenceman."
The Flames, trailing 3-1 at the time of the hit, came out on the top end of the penalties and scored on the ensuing power play when Olli Jokinen banged home a rebound and made it 3-2.
"The rink was tilted after that hit," noted Fleury.
Jokinen, by the way, had a fight in the first period with Islander Mike Haley who had run into Mikael Backlund. Not known as a scrapper, Jokinen was pretty decent in this one. Jason Jaffray, trying hard to earn a roster spot with the Flames, fought Haley in the second perod.
The Isles were certainly bothered by Phaneuf. Late in the second period Matthew Martin wanted a piece of Pahneuf and dropped the gloves. Phaneuf's defence partner, Mark Giordano, instead stepped into the fray and fought Martin.
The Flames evened the score at 3-3 when Jokinen, with his second of the game, scored on another power play, this time at 14:35 of the second.
But with Fleury in the box for hooking, a call Flames fans booed, Matt Moulson scored his second of the game to put the visitors up 4-3. However, David Moss, tipping a blast from Olli Jokinen, again on a power play, tied the game 4-4 at 7:09.
Jokinen appeared to score on a rebound late in overtime but the goal was disallowed as it was ruled he had scored s after the final buzzer.
"It was a good win for us but there is still a lot of work for us to do as a team," said Jokinen.