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October 19, 2021

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Au revoir, ‘Flower’: Goalie leaves Vegas fans with trove of memories

Fleury traded

David Zalubowski / AP File

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) plays in Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, in this Tuesday, June 8, 2021, file photo. Fleury, the reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender was traded Tuesday, July 27, 2021, from Vegas to Chicago.

There’s a certain love Golden Knights have for Marc-André Fleury that may never be replicated. And regardless of the reasons for Tuesday’s trade that sent him to Chicago, it’s going to be strange watching Vegas take the ice next season without him.

Fleury, the always-smiling, French-Canadian goaltender affectionately known as “Flower” by his legions of fans, was sent to the Blackhawks in a deal that returned the Golden Knights only salary cap space. They didn’t get NHL players or prospects or draft picks, essentially giving their goalie to Chicago for free.

While Fleury’s time in Vegas didn’t end as many would have hoped, his mark on the city won’t soon be forgotten. He was a fan favorite for his entire Golden Knights tenure, from the moments he was rumored to be coming until Tuesday when he was let go.

The memories he left won’t soon be forgotten, and we put together a few of his top moments from his four years as a Vegas Golden Knight.

Golden Knights pick Fleury in expansion draft

Fleury, a former No. 1 draft pick of the Penguins and member of two Stanley Cup-winning teams in Pittsburgh, said he was surprised at the massive ovation he received when he walked through the T-Mobile Arena curtain back in June 2017. He was one of four players (Brayden McNabb, Deryk Engelland and Jason Garrison were the others) on hand for the Vegas expansion draft, but Fleury was the only one who sent the crowd into a frenzy.

Fleury’s selection gave Golden Knights fans an immediate star player to cling to, evidenced by the number of No. 29 jerseys in the arena both that inaugural year and beyond. He was so many new hockey fans’ first favorite player, and it started from the first day Vegas started to assemble a team.

Superman save against Toronto

Fleury made over 5,000 saves in a Vegas uniform, but one stands about above the rest. It was Nov. 19, 2019, at T-Mobile Arena, and the Golden Knights led the Maple Leafs 3-2 in the final minutes. Toronto rushed down the ice, and Ilya Mikheyev’s shot hit the right post and pulled Fleury to that side of the crease. Nic Petan crashed for the rebound and fired a shot. Fleury leapt from one side of the blue paint to the other, going almost fully horizontal and pulling down the puck.

The save was important in the game, as it helped Vegas hold on for the win. But the impact of that save will live forever.

A photo of the sprawling Fleury making the save was memorialized as a figurine in a fan giveaway this season and has become the iconic pose of a player beloved in the city.

If Fleury were to ever get a statue outside T-Mobile Arena, it would most likely be of him in that position.

Fleury wins Vezina Trophy

The only credential missing from Fleury’s ironclad case for the Hall of Fame was individual honors. He split the Jennings Trophy with Robin Lehner last year as the goalies who combined to give up the fewest goals in the league, and on June 29, was rewarded with the trophy that had always previously eluded him.

Fleury had never even been a Vezina Trophy finalist before this season, but he was not going to be denied, putting up career-bests in save percentage (.927) and goals-against average (1.98). He won the trophy — awarded to the NHL’s top goalie as determined by a vote of the league’s general managers — cementing himself as one of the best goalies of his era.

Fleury’s emotional return to the ice

Golden Knights fans loved Fleury for what he did on the ice, and they showed their appreciation on Dec. 10, 2019. Fleury had just returned from a leave of absence with the team to be with his family after the death of his father. He missed seven games and returned on a Tuesday night against Chicago.

Cheers for Fleury were always loud, but they were different on that night. There was a genuine tenderness in the way Vegas fans rallied behind him as he made 28 saves and came 27 seconds from a shutout.

“It’s different,” Fleury said after the game. “It’s a midseason game, but it still meant a lot to me. It was good to win.”

Run to the Stanley Cup Final

Had the Golden Knights won three more games in June 2018, Fleury would have been a unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the player deemed the most valuable player in the playoffs. Vegas, the expansion team who everyone predicted to be terrible, steamrolled its way through the first three rounds of the playoffs on Fleury’s back. He had more shutouts (4) than losses (3), and had a sterling .947 save percentage in those games leading up to the Final.

The Golden Knights had plenty of star-making moments in that first season, but Fleury nearly willed them to a historic championship. Any questions about his ability to play at this level after the Penguins benched him for their two Stanley Cup victories were answered, as Fleury was nearly unbeatable in playing some of the best hockey of his life.

There is so much Golden Knights fans will remember about Fleury’s time in Vegas, but he cemented a generation of memories by taking the new team to the Final.