Matt Murray’s play has helped the Pittsburgh Penguins get by the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, and now Mike Sullivan is hoping Murray can keep his magical post-season going because the Penguins coach has decided to turn back to the 21-year-old to keep the Penguins’ season alive.
Sullivan confirmed Tuesday that Murray will be getting the start in goal for Pittsburgh in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final with the Penguins facing elimination for the first time in the series and for the first time all post-season. Murray’s start comes after the Penguins went away from the rookie netminder for Game 5 and instead put veteran Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.
Fleury was OK, not great, and allowed four goals against on 25 shots, including the overtime-winner just 53 seconds into the extra frame. And though Fleury was good all season, Game 5 was his first start in 52 days and first full game since returning from his second concussion of the season. Fleury may have been rusty and there's always the chance he could have turned in a good performance in Game 6 now that he’s been back in action, but Sullivan said the Penguins can’t afford to find out if Fleury's late-game play was simply a matter of Fleury getting back to game speed.
“At this particular point in the season, we don't have the luxury of allowing players to play through things,” Sullivan said. “We have to win a game. We have to win a hockey game. And that's how we looked at it.”
Sullivan said the decision to start Murray over Fleury is the coaching staff’s opinion as to which netminder gives the Penguins the best chance in Tuesday’s game, just as it was their opinion Fleury gave them the best chance of winning Game 5.
Murray entered the conference final with a 2.05 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, but those numbers had dipped significantly in the series. Heading into Game 6, he boasts a 2.33 GAA and .923 SP, but he’s answered back spectacularly from bad starts throughout the post-season.
“Matt has played extremely well for us throughout the course of the playoffs,” Sullivan said. “He’s won a lot of big games for us. He's made timely saves for us. He has a demeanor back there, a calming effect on the group in front of him. I think his performance speaks for itself. He's been thrown into a tough situation, and he's handled it extremely well.”
And Murray will have the chance to play behind a Pittsburgh team that is confident in their ability to force a Game 7. Penguins players have repeatedly said they believe the series will shift back to Pittsburgh, with some calling Evgeni Malkin’s statement that he believes in himself and his teammates' ability to take the series home for Game 7 a “guarantee” of victory. Sullivan said he’s all for his team’s confidence heading into the potentially season-ending contest, though.
“I absolutely love the fact that they believe in their teammates, they believe in themselves, and they believe that each and every night, when we get on the ice, that we're going to win,” Sullivan said. “That's an important element in sports. That's an important part of being a great player, and our guys possess that.”