Fleury’s milestone gives Wild another reason to celebrate the NHL’s second- winningest goalie

Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024

ST. PAUL — The crowd chants for Marc-Andre Fleury started in the second period and filled the arena again in the waning minutes, as the Minnesota Wild goalie closed in on a long-sought milestone.

Once the horn sounded on Fleury’s 552nd win in the NHL on Monday night, putting him in sole possession of second place on the career list, Wild players rushed to the crease for a group hug that was overdue for everyone on this struggling club.

“Look at how the team rushed out after the game to congratulate him,” coach John Hynes said, reflecting on the impact Fleury has made on every organization he’s been with.

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The 39-year-old Fleury has put himself in elite company among the hundreds of goaltenders to ever put on the pads throughout the history of the league, now owning more victories than Patrick Roy (551) and trailing only Martin Brodeur (691).

“I hope he stays there forever,” teammate Marcus Foligno said.

Regardless of where he has ranked in the record book, though, celebrating Fleury is a natural activity for fans, teammates and anyone associated with the sport.

“He’s a better guy than a goalie, and that says a lot when you have the second-best goalie in the world,” said Mats Zuccarello, who scored 2:11 into the game in the 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders.

As he closed in on his first shutout of the season — and the 74th of his 20-year career — Fleury moved around the crease with his usual intensity and intention. He even tapped the crossbar a couple of times to thank it for the help, a quirk just as prevalent for him as his locker room pranks.

Fleury recently became the fourth goalie to play in 1,000 games. He tied Roy in wins the following week. Then he gave the Wild another highlight in a season that has been short on them.

“My dream was to play in the NHL. I was so happy to play that first game,” said Fleury, drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003. “From then on, it was just one game at a time, one win at a time, trying to win the next one. I’ve been very fortunate to play with really great teams, great teammates, people that helped me stay healthy throughout the journey. It feels crazy to be here now.”

How about ahead of Brodeur?

“I’ll need 15 more years,” the perpetually smiling Fleury said.

Two of Fleury’s three children — the other was recovering from tonsil surgery — greeted him at his stall in the Wild locker room afterward. The team quickly announced a celebration night for Fleury on Feb. 9 when the Wild host the Penguins, the team he won his first two Stanley Cup titles with over 13 seasons.

He won another one with the Vegas Golden Knights, moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks and then arrived in Minnesota in a midseason trade two years ago for what has widely been assumed the final stop of his decorated career. Fleury, who also has 92 wins and 16 shutouts in 169 playoff games, has not revealed whether or not he’d like to play next season after his contract expires this summer.

“He’s probably the best guy I’ve ever played with there on the team,” defenseman Jonas Brodin said. “He cares about the team, and he’s such a good guy. I’m so happy for him.”

Brushing aside the fuss and the praise as effortlessly as he swats away the pucks, Fleury finally allowed himself to acknowledge the enormity of the accomplishment by nestling between the greats Roy and Brodeur, his fellow French Canadians.

“What a feeling to have the crowd, 18,000, chanting your name. Get a little goosebumps,” Fleury said. “Where else in life are you going to get that? I’ll cherish that for a long time.”