PITTSBURGH — Love was in the air from the moment the doors were opened Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena.
There was plenty of it for Marc-Andre Fleury. But in the end, there was more love for his former team.
Fleury’s emotional return to the place where he won three Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins turned into a roller-coaster 60 minutes that ended in a 5-4 loss for the Golden Knights.
The loss dropped the Knights to 3-2 on their six-game trip, which concludes Thursday at San Jose.
It looked promising at the start for the Golden Knights, who staked their goaltender to a 2-0 second-period lead. But Fleury, with his family watching among the sellout crowd of 18,644, allowed five consecutive goals before the Knights scored twice for the final margin.
“I got goosebumps; it was very emotional,” Fleury said. “It was good. I wish we could have gotten a win. But I can put it behind me, and we can move on.”
The 33-year-old Fleury, who was drafted by the Penguins No. 1 overall in 2003 and was with the team through the 2016-17 season, received a hero’s welcome. Chants of “Fleury” echoed throughout the building from the pregame warmups and especially after a moving 1:45 video tribute that was shown with 13:03 remaining in the first period.
Fleury, who was fighting back tears but did not take off his mask, acknowledged the crowd with his stick raised and his glove touching his heart as he received a standing ovation that lasted about a minute.
“It was great to see all the fans, all the signs and the support,” Fleury said.
His teammates had hoped for a better ending after giving Fleury a 2-0 lead on William Karlsson’s power-play goal 2:09 into the game and James Neal’s second-period goal.
“Obviously the city loves him, guys love him, we certainly love him here and we’re happy to have him,” said Neal, who has scored 23 goals this season. “I just wish we had a better effort for him.”
Said Karlsson, whose goal, his 28th, gave the Knights a power-play goal for the eighth consecutive game: “There was a lot of emotion. I can’t imagine how Fleury was feeling, especially during that tribute video. I’m not happy that we didn’t win for him.”
Once Ryan Reaves solved Fleury 11:08 into the second period, the onslaught began. Ian Cole and Jake Guentzel scored 56 seconds apart late in the second to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead. It became 5-2 after Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel helped each other score 3:11 apart early in the third.
The Knights followed with goals by Ryan Carpenter and Jonathan Marchessault.
“I thought (Fleury) handled it great,” Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. “That first 30 minutes, he made some big saves to keep us in the lead. But then they got a few by us.”
Neal was impressed with how Fleury handled the emotional return.
“I can’t imagine playing that many years and coming back and playing in the building against your old teammates,” Neal said. “It’s hard, but he did a really good job.”
1. Penguins’ classy move. Marc-Andre Fleury was willing to let his former team make a fuss over him — to a point. He got his 2017 Stanley Cup ring in private Tuesday morning, and he accepted the adulation from fans throughout the game, capped by the Penguins’ tribute video that spanned the goaltender’s career.
2. Delay hat trick. No one could remember a team taking three delay of game penalties for putting the puck over the glass, but the Knights managed a weird hat trick of sorts after Nate Schmidt (twice) and Erik Haula were called for airmailing the puck into the crowd. The Knights killed off all three, along with two other penalties.
3. Carpenter heats up. Ryan Carpenter has scored in two straight games. That might not sound like much, but he didn’t have a goal this season until Sunday. Playing with Alex Tuch and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare might be just what he needed. That and a regular turn on the ice. Carpenter played 12:28 Tuesday and took 17 shifts.