Matt Murray (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray allowed three goals on 20 shots in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, but that hasn’t shaken coach Mike Sullivan’s confidence in the netminder. Murray will get the call in Game 2, as only minor tweaks appear to be coming for Pittsburgh.
For as long as the Penguins are alive in the post-season, there’s going to be a spotlight on their crease as rookie Matt Murray continues to perform like the goaltender of the future while Marc-Andre Fleury, a Stanley Cup winner several seasons ago, sits on the bench. But Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan is doing his best to keep the chatter about a controversy to a minimum.
Murray had one of his worst games of the post-season in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, allowing three goals on 20 shots in roughly 58 minutes of work. And even though it’s the second time in his past three outings Murray has allowed three goals in 20 or fewer shots, that hasn’t stopped Sullivan from having faith in the 21-year-old. On the eve of Game 2, Sullivan said matter-of-factly that Murray will get the call Monday night.
“What I see in him is what you see right now,” Sullivan said. “He has a maturity level beyond his years. I think he responds to adversity extremely well. He has a really good work ethic and preparation process that he puts himself in a position to be successful, and he's a very good goalie. He's made timely saves throughout the course of this Playoffs and leading up to the Playoffs that have given our team a chance to win.”
When there were questions about which netminder would get the call in Game 1, Sullivan’s mindset was almost exactly the same. He wanted to make sure he started the goaltender who gave the Penguins the best chance to win, and he believed — and still believes — that’s Murray. Sullivan, who was previously coach of the Penguins’ AHL affiliate, said Sunday that he watched Murray give the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins the best chance to win each game on a regular basis.
Murray has bounced back well from every statistically poor game he has had this post-season. Three times he has posted a save percentage below .900 — Game 1 and 6 against Washington, and Friday’s Game 1 against Tampa Bay — but he has come back with a SP of at least .920 following his past two sub-.900 games. In Game 2 of the second round, Murray stopped 23 of 24 shots, and in Game 7, he turned aside 36 of 39 shots that came his way. He’ll have the opportunity Monday to go 3-for-3 in games following a loss.
And though there will be no change in goal, that doesn’t mean the Penguins’ lineup will remain completely the same heading into Game 2. Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta could be out of the lineup after a disappointing Game 1, and it’s possible Justin Schultz will fill the hole on the blueline. Sullivan said that while the Penguins dropped the opening game, the team can take something from the contest and head into Game 2 with their minds set on evening the series.
“We've got to learn what we can from Game 1,” Sullivan said. “We've got to take the good things that we did, and there were a lot of good things that we did. By no means was it a bad game for us. I don't think they saw our best, and that's what I mentioned to you guys the last couple days, but by no means was it a bad game.”