By Stu Hackel
In a momentous week of league realignment and The New York Times series on Derek Boogaard, the NHL has still managed to produce the kind of fun, quirky factoid that every fan loves: That would be the tale of Hurricanes rookie goalie Mike Murphy, who was credited with a regulation loss on Tuesday night without surrendering a goal. Moreover, he became the first goalie in NHL history to record a loss before ever allowing a goal in a league game.
A star in junior hockey a couple of years ago, Murphy was an emergency recall from AHL Charlotte when Carolina's backup goalie, Brian Boucher, was injured during practice in Calgary on Monday. One night later, his first in an NHL uniform, Murphy was sitting on the bench, minding his own business, when the Flames scored a third-period short side, power-play goal against Carolina's Cam Ward to make it a 6-3 game. At the next whistle, 'Canes coach Kirk Muller came over and tapped Murphy on the shoulder.
"I'm going to put you in," Muller said.
The Hurricanes have been losing fairly regularly and were due to play the next night in Edmonton against the young, fast Oilers, so Muller, still searching for his first win as an NHL coach since replacing Paul Maurice on Nov. 28, figured he'd give Ward a rest and see what the 22-year-old Murphy could do.
Wearing number 70, Murphy skated into the crease. His teammates did a good job of blocking shots and he didn't see any for a while. Then Eric Staal scored for Carolina, making it 6-4.
With about a minute-and-a-half remaining, Muller pulled Murphy for the extra attacker and Calgary's Jarome Iginla fired a shot from center ice into the empty net to make it 7-4.
Murphy returned to the net and soon afterward made his first NHL save on a long shot by Tim Jackman. But in the last half-minute of regulation, Chad LaRose and then Staal, their tallies sandwiched around Murphy's second save. That made it a 7-6 game and that's how it would end.
And the goalie of record when the winning goal was scored -- Iginla's empty-netter -- was Murphy, who had been watching from the bench, the same place he was for every Calgary goal that night.
Elias Sports Bureau, which tracks these things, told the Hurricanes about the unique place that Murphy now holds in hockey history: getting tagged with an "L' before ever surrendering a goal in an NHL game. His hockey card now reads: 1 game, 0 wins, 1 loss, 8:37 minutes played, 0 goals allowed, goals-against average of 0.00, 2 shots against, save percentage of 1.000.
The morning after the game, I got a phone call -- as I figured I would -- from my old friend Marc Nathan in Los Angeles, who just hates the way the NHL judges wins and losses, the first goal that provides the margin of victory is designated the game-winner. He feels it should be the goal after which the team never relinquishes the lead.
"I've always believed in the baseball rule," he said. "If your team doesn't relinquish a lead, there's your winning and losing pitcher. It's the time when the lead changes hands. That's not the NHL rule; I get that. When Iginla scores the goal to make it 7-4, and the game-winning goal is the fifth one. Then Carolina scores and makes it 7-5 and the game-winning goal changes. Then they score again and the game-winning goal changes again. It doesn't seem like the game-winning goal should change because the Flames never relinquished the lead."
Marc went on, pointing out that in the Avalanche-Canucks game the same night, Vancouver's Roberto Luongo was injured and replaced by Cory Schneider. They ended up sharing a 6-0 shutout. Luongo got the win because he was the goalie when his team scored the first goal, although Schneider played most of the game. "But what if Schneider had a clause in his contract that paid off for wins?" Marc asked theoretically. "The game gets to be 5-0 and he just lets one in so he can get the 'W'. It's bizarre."
"It's not going to change," laughs the NHL's chief statistician, Benny Ercolani, another old friend of mine who has had this discussion many times before. "That's baseball's rule. This is ours."
Benny seriously doubts that an NHL goalie like Schneider would purposely allow a goal, considering that netminders prize their save percentage stats above all. "Sometimes you get quirky things like what happened in Calgary, but that's the fun of it. I don't think it bothered Murphy that much."
Apparently not. He called the game "an incredible experience," and told Chip Alexander of The Raleigh News & Observer, "I'm the backup goalie, so you go in and do what you can for the team. You don't like that your team is losing. Cam Ward is such a great goalie and great person, I'll take a loss for him any day."
Ercolani pointed out that even when a team loses a 0-0 tie in the shootout, the goalie does not get a loss on his record, so what happened to Murphy, getting the "L" without surrendering a goal, is probably unprecedented.
"It's gone the other way too," Ercolani says. "I seem to remember a game, it might have been Colorado, when Patrick Roy had to leave to get his equipment fixed, and Craig Billington came in for a very short time, didn't have to stop a shot, the Avalanche scored the game-winner, Roy came back in and finished the game, but Billington got the win because he was in there at the time Colorado scored.
"But this one, with Murphy -- a 0.00 average, 1.000 save percentage and the regulation loss --I doubt something like this will ever happen again."