(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Going into the playoffs this spring, Jones and Murray had a combined 112 games of NHL experience. You have to go back 30 years to find two Stanley Cup final starters with less combined experience than these two guys.
PITTSBURGH – There’s a lot you’re not going to find when it comes to the two starting goaltenders in this Stanley Cup final. The first is body fat. Both Matt Murray and Martin Jones can give Ryan Miller a run for his money in the skinny-as-a-rail sweepstakes. Another is bravado. Not a lot of boasting with these fellows. But the most prominent thing missing from this duo is experience.
Going into the playoffs this spring, Jones and Murray had a combined 112 games of NHL experience, with the vast majority of that (99 games) going to Jones. You have to go back 30 years to find two Stanley Cup final starters with less combined experience than these two guys. Back in the 1986 final, Patrick Roy led the Montreal Canadiens to the Cup after just 48 games of NHL work and faced Mike Vernon in the final, who had played just 21 games for the Calgary Flames prior to the playoffs that year.
With just 13 games on his NHL resume going into this year’s playoffs, Murray has a chance to become the greenest goalie to win a Stanley Cup since Ken Dryden led the Canadiens to the championship after backstopping them for just six games that regular season. Jones, on the other hand, will get his name on the Cup for the second time if the Sharks win, after serving as Jonathan Quick’s backup with Los Angeles Kings in 2013-14.
What you will find common to the two goalies is a remarkable unflappability. The mark of a truly great goaltender is as much in how he responds to bad outings as his ability to string together good ones. And both have had their speed bumps along the way in these playoffs. Jones looked a little shaky in the second round against the Nashville Predators, while Murray was candid about his level of play in the Eastern Conference final. “In the Tampa series, I thought I was pretty average,” Murray said. “We were just able to score enough goals to where it didn’t matter. As a team, we dominated most of that series and I definitely could have been better, but we got the job done.”
By the time Jones found his footing again in the Western Conference final, there were games against the St. Louis Blues that he probably could have played in his bath slippers and still won. But the days of a team absolutely requiring lights-out goaltending to win a Stanley Cup are over. Teams that are as good and balanced as the Sharks often don’t require that kind of goaltending. Sometimes they just need a goalie who won’t lose them games and they have that in Jones.
A year ago, there likely were not too many people – if any – who could have imagined that all of this would have transpired. The Penguins against the Sharks in the Stanley Cup final? OK, we can maybe accept that, even though the Sharks failed to make the playoffs last spring and the Penguins were bounced in five games in the first round by the New York Rangers. But who would have predicted that Jones would be facing Murray? For that to happen, Jones needed to be dealt to the Sharks via Boston and Murray had to make his way out of the minors and leapfrog both Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff on the Penguins depth chart.
“I was playing behind Jonathan Quick a year ago, so I don’t know,” Jones said. “But I definitely was confident that I was able to do it. It’s a matter of opportunity, playing well at the right time and playing behind a good team.”
It’s often so much about timing. Such was the case last spring when Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was out of work and biding his time with Hockey Canada at the World Championship. Jones was a backup on that team behind Mike Smith and the two had a chance to develop a rapport.
“I spent a lot of time in practice with him and even then it jumped out at me how calm and composed he was and how fluid he was with his movements,” DeBoer said. “I think the one question I had was whether there was competitiveness behind that composure and you don’t see that until you get into things like three games in five nights. That’s the one thing that really jumped out at me once he got the starting job, that there was a true compete behind the composure that he plays with.”
There is a lot to like about this Stanley Cup final. The two teams are evenly matched and are both getting stronger as the playoffs progress. With two two-day breaks between games, there will be more time than usual for teams to rest and recuperate. And when it comes to the goaltending matchup, neither has a distinct advantage over the other. And after it’s over, both will have a boatload of experience that will serve them well the rest of their careers.