On his very last day as a 21-year-old, on the very first shot he saw, Matt Murray allowed a goal. Then he got an early birthday present: a coach’s challenge showed Jonathan Drouin had been offside by the merest fraction of a second. It was back to 0-0, and Murray got down to business.
Murray made 30 saves, 19 of them in an excellent third period, as the Penguins beat the Lightning 5-2 and now head back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 tomorrow. It was the first time in Penguins franchise history a rookie netminder has won an elimination game, and now he gets at least one more chance to do it again.
“I just think that’s part of his DNA,” coach Mike Sullivan said of Murray. “He has a calming influence. He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. To have it at such a young age is impressive.”
Or, as Patric Hornqvist put it, “he plays like he’s 30.”
Taking a 3-0 lead into the third (capped off by what would be Sidney Crosby’s third game-winning goal of this series. It’s a bad stat, but still.), the Penguins managed to simultaneously give up on their attack and fail to give Murray help in their own end, leaving the goalie to face numerous breakaways and odd-man rushes and forcing him to clean up everybody’s messes. He got things started early, knocking down a fluttering puck and quickly getting his pad out to save the putback opportunity.
Competence was the order of the night for Murray, no truly spectacular saves but he stopped every one you’d want him to, like a nifty pad save on J.T. Brown or a second-period stoning of a wide-open Ondrej Palat. Competence was all that was called for in Game 6, and Sullivan and the Penguins should—and apparently do—have confidence that he can provide it going forward.
I was entirely wrong when I wrote after Game 5 that the switch to Marc-Andre Fleury was irrevocable. I thought Sullivan would hew to the conventional wisdom that managing egos and contracts matters more than just picking the hotter goalie—that preserving Fleury’s confidence for the next three years would trump immediate hockey considerations. That logic isn’t fair to Fleury, who’s a professional, and it was an incorrect assumption of Sullivan’s thinking. Give Sullivan all the credit in the world for acknowledging that his failed Game 5 gambit is a sunk cost, instead of doubling down on it.
Sullivan and Murray started this season together in Wilkes-Barre, so the coach has had plenty of chances to see how his young goalie deals with setbacks and success, and maybe that’s played a role in his thinking. Or maybe he just figured you don’t need to overthink this: play the best goalie right now. Game 7 and the Penguins’ season is Murray’s.