Brian Dumoulin of the Pittsburgh Penguins clears the puck away from his goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 17. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh netminder feared for the worst when James van Riemsdyk's skate blade struck his neck. But he "got lucky."
It didn’t look good when play was halted as goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury skated to the bench, sensing his neck had been cut.
But as Pittsburgh Penguins head athletic trainer Chris Stewart began pressing a towel against his skin, it became clearer the damage incurred by Fleury was relatively minor – all things considered.
“I got lucky,” Fleury told reporters after a 2-1 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “Talking with the docs, it was close to the jugular. It was bad luck, but I was happy it wasn't too bad, though.”
Marc Andre Fleury took a skate to the throat and then returned to the game pic.twitter.com/XoOVl1ZtOG— Goalie Ways (@GoalieWays) December 18, 2016
The Saturday night affair was in its infancy when Fleury received the scare.
Maple Leafs left winger James van Riemsdyk was off to the left of the goalie and was pushing his way towards the front of the net. Penguins defenseman Steve Oleksy knocked him off balance, causing van Riemsdyk’s left skate to kick up and strike Fleury under the mask and plastic neck guard.
With the play now outside the Penguins zone, the play was whistled down just 1:59 into the game.
Marc-Andre Fleury takes James van Riemsdyk's skate to his throat; Fleury is getting stitched up, Matt Murray comes in to replace him. pic.twitter.com/D7uyp25twl— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 18, 2016
Fleury told Josh Yohe from DKPittsburghSports.com that he feared for the worst immediately. He thought of the horrifying Clint Malarchuk incident. Malarchuk, then a goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres, infamously had his jugular vein cut by a skate blade in a 1989 game.
"That was the first thing that went through my mind,” Fleury said.
Fleury is back in net after taking a skate to the neck. He taps Murray's pads as a thank you on his way back. pic.twitter.com/Ef3orI5gzn— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 18, 2016
Fleury went off to receive repairs and was replaced by partner Matt Murray. Murray played 9:15 stopping all six shots he faced. Fleury returned and stopped 41 of 43 shots. Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner scored the winner two minutes into overtime.
His teammates were glad to have him back.
“Flower was outstanding,” center Matt Cullen said to Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He essentially won us a point.”
Once Fleury knew the damage was minimal, he was determined to get back in the net. Fleury has two more years remaining on his contract, which contains a $5.75 cap hit, a modified no trade clause and a no-movement clause. However, his statistics – 8-5-4, 3.36 goals-against average and .904 save percentage – are well below his career norms while Murray gets more of the workload.
The 32-year-old hadn’t played since Dec. 5 when he was pulled after surrendering four goals on 16 shots in an 8-5 win over Ottawa.
“I haven’t played too much,” Fleury told reporters. “It’d need to be a little deeper for me to wait that one out.”