Matt Murray (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan didn’t officially announce his starting goaltender for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, but it looks like he’ll stick with the hot hand as 21-year-old Matt Murray was first off the ice in the morning skate.
Matt Murray is in the midst of a star-making post-season in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but with a healthy Marc-Andre Fleury sitting on the sidelines for the past four games, there are some questioning which goaltender coach Mike Sullivan will go with for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
And it was maybe safe to assume that Murray, who is 7-2 with a .935 SP, would get the call in Game 1, Sullivan hasn't done much to stop the questions about which goaltender will be starting. When asked about a potential starter Thursday, Sullivan wouldn’t tip his hand, saying only the Penguins would go with whichever netminder gave the team the best chance at winning.
“I think we’re very fortunate because we have the options that we have,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got very capable people in a lot of positions, but goaltending in particular, we’ve got three guys that have helped us win and have been significant contributors in getting this team to where it is to this point.”
But at the morning skate Friday, it was Murray who was first off the ice, normally a sign of which netminder will be starting the evening’s contest. That means the 21-year-old Murray, who came into this post-season with zero games of NHL playoff experience, will start the opening game of the Eastern Conference final.
“I just think Matt has the ability to stay in the moment,” Sullivan said following the Friday morning skate. “He doesn't get overwhelmed by the circumstance or the drama. He loves to play. He loves to compete, and he stays in the moment. He has the ability to respond the right way to some of the adversities during the course of a game or the course of a number of games for that matter.”
Murray has shown that throughout the post-season, too. Even in situations where the pressure could have gotten the best of him, like the 4-3 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals in the opening game of Round Two, Murray has stepped up and bounced back. And his ability to bounce back throughout his career has been incredible, which was outlined ahead of Game 6 of the second-round series.
Murray has yet to lose back-to-back games in his — albeit brief — NHL career, and he turned in a shutout and one-goal against, 23-save performance in the two outings immediately following the worst games of his season with the Penguins.
“If he thinks he should have had a save or one gets by him, it doesn't impact the next play or the next save,” Sullivan said. “He responds the right way to those sorts of adversities. And I think that speaks to his maturity…Matt, as a young player, has really displayed admirable resilience and resolve in that regard.”
This will be a new kind of pressure for Murray, however, especially with a shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup final hanging in the balance. But Murray has been exceptional throughout these playoffs, and just like Sullivan was right to stick with the youngster during the latter stages of Round Two, he’s right to keep with Murray to kick off the conference final. Now it’s up to Murray to make good on his coach’s good faith.