MONTREAL — The Bell Centre has never been kind to Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Sorel-Tracy, Que. native has played countless heartbreaking games in front of belligerent crowds against he Montreal Canadiens, his childhood team. Thursday night, Fleury finally got one back on his old nemesis and stepped into NHL history.
In front of friends and family in his home province, Fleury picked up his 500th career win as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Canadiens 2-0.
“It was really special. I really thought people in Montreal hated me after all these years of getting yelled at or booed,” Fleury said. “I never play my best games here. It’s always a rough night in Montreal.
“To finally get a win, the 500th win, with my friends and family in the arena and with the fans’ reception it’s heartwarming. It’s great to be able to achieve this in Montreal.”
With a 27-save shutout at the Bell Centre, Fleury joined his idols Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy as the only NHL goaltenders to reach 500 career wins. Brodeur is the all-time leader with 691, Roy stands second with 551.
“For me, Patrick and Martin are the best,” Fleury said. “That’s what’s fun about hockey, I have fun and all but the feeling of getting a win, that’s what I’m looking for. For me the 500 was important, trying to beat Patrick isn’t as important.”
As the clock reached zero, Blackhawks teammates rushed over to Fleury in celebration as the Bell Centre public announcer mentioned the milestone. Overwhelmed with the moment, Fleury admitted he didn’t notice the announcement.
Interim Blackhawks coach Derek King said he’d never heard a crowd cheer for a visiting player like the Bell Centre fans did on Thursday.
While he recognizes his bias, King said Fleury has his place among the game’s great netminders.
“Roy and Brodeur are elite obviously but I don’t get why Fleury doesn’t get (recognition),” King said. “Eventually down the road when he retires he definitely should be a Hall of Famer.
“It's unbelievable. Whether it's like 50 home runs or 50 goals or getting over 100 points but this, you're not going to see this often.”
Often dubbed as one of the best teammates in the NHL, the whole Hawks team tried to replicate Fleury’s selflessness in order to preserve the shutout.
“We’re all putting pressure on ourselves to play for him in each game,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “There are obviously a lot of reasons why he has such a great reputation so we were pretty happy to be on the ice with him for that win.”
Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin said Fleury was “one of the nicest people I’ve met in my entire career.È
“Honestly, I would’ve liked to see his win on TV tomorrow or another day but I’m happy for him,” Drouin added. “He deserves it, he’s always been nice with everyone and always worked hard.”
The depleted Canadiens have only recorded one point, an overtime loss to the Nashville Predators, in their last five games.
Drouin thinks that the team still showed positive effort which they can build upon.
“At least there are positive things that we can keep for the next day when you get to practice and watch video,” Drouin said. “Even if we’re missing players, there is something to build on. The effort and attitude are there.”
Toews opened his 2021 account while Henrik Borgstrom added Chicago’s second goal. Patrick Kane and Seth Jones picked up assists.
Jake Allen blocked 23 of the 25 shots sent his way.
Kane had the opening goal on the tip of his stick in the final moments of the first period when the winger intercepted Allen’s clearance, but he skied the puck over a wide open net.
Toews finally broke the ice for the Hawks at 13:48 of the second period on the power play. It was his first goal since the 2020 NHL playoffs in the Edmonton bubble.
Borgstrom added Chicago’s insurance goal 12 minute into the third period. The Finn intercepted Alexander Romanov’s pass in front of Allen’s net and easily tapped his second marker of the season.
Habs head coach Dominique Ducharme pulled Allen for an extra attacker to force a comeback to no avail.
The Habs broke a franchise record for most games in a calendar year, having played 106 regular-season and playoff games in 2021.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2021.
Tristan D’Amours, The Canadian Press