His legend grows larger by the minute. He is 15 feet tall now, and soon he will be 20. His teeth are sharp, and his eyes are blazing, and he seems to have more arms than Vishnu.
He is Marc-Andre Fleury, and in front of the goal, he looks like a monster standing in front of a postage stamp. Soon he will be mayor of Pittsburgh, and shortly thereafter he will be governor of Pennsylvania. Any moment now he may reach up and hang his jersey between those of Mario Lemieux and Michel Briere in the rafters of the Consol Energy Center.
This, then, is the task at hand for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
All it has to do is figure out how to kill King Kong.
All things considered, tonight's Game 2 is a must-win for the Lightning. First, however, it is a must-score game. Zero goals, the result of a game's worth of work in the opener, doesn't add up to a lot of success.
One game in and it has contributed to the brightening star power of Fleury. At the end of the Penguins' 3-0 victory Wednesday night, he left the ice with most of the packed crowd chanting his name over and over again. His name seemed to be in every headline and talk-radio discussion. "Flower," they call him. Ha. If Fleury is a flower, then Audrey II of Little Shop of Horrors is a shrub.
How, then, does a team break through a legend? How do you take a goaltender who plays like Godzilla and turn him into the Geico lizard?
And more to the point, which Lightning player is going to open the gate?
How about Marty St. Louis, the guy with blood in his mouth?
For most of the Lightning's playoff seasons, it has usually been St. Louis who has provided the spark. No other player in franchise history has scored as many playoff goals (23) or had as many moments, including seven winners, as St. Louis.
Now, considering that St. Louis spent part of Thursday in a dentist's chair getting a double root canal after getting whacked in the teeth by the stick of Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek, he has a little more motivation to score a goal.
"It starts with one," St. Louis said Thursday. "You don't think about scoring four, five. You start with one and let everything take care of itself. You just keep pounding. You can't worry about how good (Fleury) is. Yeah, he's a good goalie, but there are a lot of good goalies in this league. Good goalies can be beat."
How about Vinny Lecavalier, the team's captain who finished the regular season so strong? Lecavalier has 18 postseason goals himself. If Fleury hadn't turned into a contortionist at one point Wednesday night, Lecavalier might have 19.
"Screens and rebounds," Lecavalier said. "They can't stop what they can't see. In playoff hockey, that's how you get the puck into the net."
How about Steven Stamkos, provided he can ever get on the other side of his drought?
For goodness' sake, Stamkos' dry spell has gone on so long, you wonder if it's even fair to call it a slump anymore. Just wondering, but has anyone checked his sticks for concussions? If this was classic TV, it would be time to call Lassie, because Stammer's scoring touch has fallen down a well.
"You just have to keep shooting," Stamkos said. "It's the same answer every day. It's not making a pretty pass or a pretty play."
Simon Gagne, perhaps? Dominic Moore? Teddy Purcell?
Of course, it would suit Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher just fine if his power play had a few more chances to score. Boucher kept saying Thursday that he was fine with the calls that led to six power plays against the Lightning on Wednesday; on the other hand, Tampa Bay had only one power-play chance itself. Boucher also pointed out that Pittsburgh was the most penalized team in the NHL this year. Just asking, but does anyone else think that was a dig at the officials?
So how do you break through against a hot goaltender and the defenders who protect him?
"You have to work harder than the goaltender is working," Boucher said. "Simple. You aren't going to do it on free shots.
"What we have to watch out for is to say, 'Hey, we have to score more goals.' That's the biggest mistake we could ever make. We beat these guys at home (2-1 March 31). We beat them because we played the same game we did (for the first two periods Wednesday). You don't want to open up or it's going to be worse."
Besides, Boucher said, his team could have scored two to three goals if it had buried its chances. As good as Fleury was, the Lightning was a co-conspirator in its defeat.
"You can't get frustrated," Boucher said. "We know we're encountering an amazing goaltender who can win a game by himself, but we also know our guys weren't in the right space."
The thing is, the Lightning needs this game tonight. Otherwise, it would have to win four games out of five against Fleury to advance. When a team has yet to score, that's a steep hill.
So how does it win? By swarming. By screening. By getting feisty in front of the net.
After all, with enough planes, with enough firepower, King Kong eventually fell to earth.