Flower’s 1,000th Game
Marc-Andre Fleury finished 2023 by playing his 1,000th NHL game in goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury was happy when the game was over, kind of.
Well, happy that he made it through a big NHL milestone, not happy with the result of the Winnipeg Jets sweeping the home-and-home weekend with the Minnesota Wild. The Jets skated to a 3-2 win on Sunday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center, handing Fleury a loss in his 972nd start and 1,000th career NHL game.
“I wish it was a win,” Fleury said. “Disappointing. I thought the guys played great tonight. Battled hard.
“Obviously, very flattered by the reception from the crowd, from my teammates. It means a lot.”
That reception started with treatment usually reserved for rookies. When the Wild came out for pregame warmups in their throwback green-and-yellow sweaters, Fleury led the team out of the tunnel. Except no one followed him. The 39-year-old goaltender took a brief lap around the Wild zone before the rest of his teammates hit the ice behind him.
“Yeah, they got me,” Fleury said. “Usually I’m the one that let the young guys go.”
Better late than never? Fleury wasn’t even sure the rookie laps were a thing when he came into the league 20 years ago.
The Wild acquired Fleury during a flurry of moves near the NHL trade deadline of the 2021-22 season. General manager Bill Guerin was busy with moves that included picking up current Wild defenseman Jake Middleton from San Jose. Guerin grabbed Fleury from the Chicago Blackhawks. At the time, Fleury stepped into St. Paul having already amassed a 511-297-85 record, 2.57 goals-against average, .913 save percentage in 928 career NHL games. Fleury is also a four-time All-Star (2011, 2015, 2018, 2019).
Fleury’s first few times in the Wild dressing room left some of his new teammates, especially the younger ones, starstruck.
“I remember when I first came up in the league, you wanted to score on Marc-Andre Fleury,” said Marcus Foligno in March 2022. “To have him on your team, it’s exciting.”
Fleury’s won his Wild debut in net, a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Xcel Energy Center on March 26, 2022. Fleury made 23 saves. Perhaps that was business as usual, but what wasn’t so ordinary was fans tossing flowers onto the ice to show support for their new goaltender. Fleury said at the time that it made him feel like a figure skater.
Since then, Fleury’s play hasn’t wilted too much in goal. He wrapped up 2023 becoming the 10th Wild player to play his 1,000th NHL game in a Wild sweater, reaching the milestone a few days early following the injury to his counterpart Filip Gustavsson on Saturday in Winnipeg. Fleury will likely see the net for a while now, as the Wild announced on Monday that Gustavsson was placed on injured reserve. Through 1,000 games, Fleury is 550-321-93 with 73 shutouts.
On New Year’s Eve, Fleury received a loud cheer when his name was announced as part of the starting lineup. Then at the first TV timeout in the first period, the videoboard showed graphics recognizing his 1,000 games complete with an in-arena announcement of the milestone. Fans rose to their feet for a thunderous ovation as Fleury skated out of his crease in acknowledgment.
He made some strong saves in goal, including a windmill motion for one and a couple of solid pad saves later that got the crowd roaring yet again. The Wild took 1-0 and 2-1 leads but ultimately fell 3-2 with a third-period Jets comeback, spoiling the weekend and Fleury’s pre-New Year celebration as he was denied a victory.
“Tonight again, so many people cheering for my time out there,” Fleury said. “I got some goosebumps and some butterflies. I don’t think no other job in the world can give you that.”
His teammates can’t speak highly enough about the veteran and what he means to the team.
Fellow Quebec native Frederick Gaudreau said he was emotional thinking about the thousand games for his goaltender and teammate.
“The thing that’s crazy about this thing, it’s not so much about the thousand games, it’s about how he’s done it,” Gaudreau said. “He’s the best teammate I’ve ever had. Still having fun.
“I feel very grateful that I’ve been able to share a locker room with him for a few years already.”
Having the Flower in net for his 1,000th game made it a little extra special for the rest of the Wild as well. Foligno called the milestone “unbelievable,” and noted how much easier it can be as a skating player to hit 1,000 games rather than a goaltender.
“We’re so proud to have him here as a teammate, and as good as a player he is on ice, off ice he’s even better,” Foligno said after Sunday’s game. “We’re lucky to have him in our room, and it’s great to be a part of something so special in a player’s career.”
Forward Ryan Hartman also noted how amazing it is that only four goaltenders have reached the milestone, and Fleury is one of them. Martin Brodeur (1,266 games), Roberto Luongo (1,044) and Patrick Roy (1,029) are the other three goaltenders.
“To have the chance to play in front of him is special,” Hartman said. “We obviously wanted to win that one for him.”
The Wild plan to honor Fleury’s milestone during a future home game this season. Some of the recent 1,000 games Wild players were Alex Goligoski, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter and Eric Staal.