MONTREAL — Marc-Andre Fleury has never suited up for the Canadiens, but the fans in Montreal chanted his name last season as the scoreboard counted down to a 2-0 win for the visiting Blackhawks that sealed the 500th victory of Fleury’s NHL career.
“I was proud and happy I was able to do it there,” said Fleury, who grew up about an hour away from Bell Centre. “It was such a good memory for me that I’ll have forever.”
Now the goaltender is back in Montreal with another milestone on deck.
Fleury is scheduled to play his 944th game Tuesday to move into sole possession of sixth place in NHL history, an opportunity that comes just as the three-time Stanley Cup champion is rebounding from a rough start with the Wild.
“I feel fortunate,” Fleury said. “Lucky I was able to play for this long and play the game I love for this long and didn’t get injured too often.”
This might not be the only goaltending record Fleury surpasses this season.
After tying Curtis Joseph for sixth with his appearance Saturday at Boston, Fleury is only 20 games behind Ed Belfour for fifth and 28 shy of fourth-place Terry Sawchuk. To climb to 1,000, which only three goalies in history have done, Fleury requires 57 more games, a feat that might be a longshot this season but isn’t impossible. (That would equal a 61-game workload, which Fleury last logged in 2018-19 with the Golden Knights.)
The future Hall of Famer also needs 30 wins to match Patrick Roy for second at 551 and is one shutout away from getting to 72 and breaking a three-way tie for 12th; his next shootout victory will make him the all-time leader with 62.
“To have that confidence in your goaltender behind you, it’s pretty special,” defenseman Matt Dumba said of Fleury, who claimed all three of his Stanley Cups with the Penguins. “He comes with a certain level of pedigree, and I think it can be intimidating a little bit. You want to give him your best game every game so he can keep reaching these accolades.”
So far this season, the win counter has moved slowly, with Fleury’s bumpy debut reflected in the Wild’s 1-3-1 slide.
He was on the hook for all seven goals in the Wild’s season-opening loss to the Rangers and gave up four to the Kings off 14 shots before getting pulled after the first period, exiting with an astronomical 8.37 goals-against average and abysmal .776 save percentage.
But since then, Fleury’s blocked 62 of 69 shots, backstopping the Wild to their first victory last Thursday vs. the Canucks before helping them snag a point in an overtime loss to the Bruins.
Aside from posting a season-high 39 saves, Fleury fended off a slew of odd-man rushes to prevent Boston from running away from the Wild.
Weathering the ups and downs is nothing new for a veteran like Fleury, whose 38th birthday is in November.
“That’s something I’ve learned through the years,” said Fleury, who signed a two-year, $7 million contract in July to stay with the Wild after last season’s trade from Chicago. “You have to. It’s a long season, and bad games are going to happen. But you don’t want to go into big slumps that last weeks.
“Gotta find ways to put everything behind and move on quickly. Learn from the mistakes obviously but move on quickly and be ready for the next one.”
Longevity can be just as much about the future as the past.
Many of Fleury’s highlights already have happened, but with the Wild he has the chance to continue to add to his legacy.
“Still love being part of the team and helping the team trying to get out of those tough moments,” Fleury said. “Try to make a difference. Maybe that’s why I was so mad the first couple games not making the difference and just digging the hole deeper. That was obviously not fun but try to put that behind me and move on.”