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Fleury gets the call and flashes magic touch in 2-1 victory

I assume this means we will next see Oscar Dansk start in goal.

I mean, doesn’t every decision Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer makes turn into, well, gold?

Not that Marc-Andre Fleury needed those bright-looking pads to beat Chicago.

The Great Hub Goaltending Debate took another turn Saturday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, where Fleury was fantastic in leading Vegas to a 2-1 victory and 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The Knights can close out this Western Conference quarterfinal Sunday. You can be sure Robin Lehner will start in goal in the second of a back-to-back after leading Vegas to wins in the first two games. I was kidding about third-stringer Dansk, but not about DeBoer and his capacity for knowing who to play and when.

There is a difference between having two starters and what the Knights have, which is two veterans capable of delivering exceptional efforts on a consistent basis. Lehner is the starter and should be. He has been better than Fleury for some time.

It’s not the catastrophe diehard Fleury fans across social media would have you believe.

DeBoer knows best

Don’t get your Fleury bobbleheads in a tizzy. The Knights still haven’t lost since entering the hub.

“Starting goaltenders want to play,” said DeBoer, still offering a view he doesn’t have a true 1-2 designation. “They want to get on a roll and have that feeling of being out there every night. But we have to ask ourselves if that what is the best for our group, or are we better spotting them off each other? I don’t know the answer to that.”

Sure he does. He coached New Jersey and San Jose to Stanley Cup Finals and, despite taking over the Golden Knights in January, knows what’s best right now for one of the deepest teams in hockey. Vegas can win this thing. It just won’t go undefeated in doing so. Well, probably not.

Here’s the best part: Fleury knows this role well and yet still owns an insatiable hunger to be the one leading his team onto the ice. Don’t let the incredibly nice, respectful, aw-shucks persona fool you. He still wants to destroy the opponent. The fire burns as strong as ever.

But he was also a backup on two of three Stanley Cup championship teams in Pittsburgh.

He has been here, sat there, watched it all unfold before.

Listen. There are far worse fates than him being a No. 2 option right now. There is actually no better option across the NHL, no matter how ugly the discourse becomes among outsiders as to who DeBoer should start.

“That’s one good thing about the bubble — we don’t hear much (of that),” Fleury said. “I love to compete. It’s tough to be on the bench, but Robin has been very good for us.

“I don’t feel like I’m against Robin. I feel like I need to beat the Blackhawks. That’s where my focus is — just to do my best to help my team win and be up 3-0 in the series. Robin likes to play. I like to play. It’s the coach’s decision. It’s the playoffs and everyone is going to be a team guy. That’s all that matters — winning one game at a time here.”

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) watches as Chicago Blackhawks' Kirby Dach (7 ...
Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) watches as Chicago Blackhawks' Kirby Dach (77) picks up a rebound during the first period of Game 3 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Some magic left

He still has it in him. Made 26 saves Saturday. Was the team’s best player. Kept things safe in the first and third periods, in each of which Chicago was the better team. Fleury can still be that wiry, athletic goalie who is now tied for sixth all time in playoff wins with 80.

He talked afterward about being nervous before the puck dropped, about having butterflies beforehand, about leaning on his playoff experience to ready himself for the challenge. This, his 142nd postseason start. Still loves it as much as ever.

“He was incredible,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “We weren’t at our best and they got some chances we’d like to have back and to have him back there … He played a fantastic game. There’s a reason why we won … Some world-class goaltending right there. It was fun to see him back.”

Fleury can still conjure up some magic, and it’s not because of any golden pads.

Lehner is the Vegas starter. Should be.

But fortunate is the team that can call a Hall of Fame goaltender off the bench.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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