PITTSBURGH – Goalie Matt Murray’s mental toughness has been praised throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, by his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates and his coach, who referred to him as “very calm, cool, collected” and “business-like.”
Perhaps we can add “purposefully delusional” to that list.
Murray didn’t have a good first period in the Penguins’ 4-2 Game 5 loss against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, who rode a 44-save performance by their own goalie Martin Jones back home for a Game 6 on Sunday.
Brent Burns flung a puck at the net and snuck it past Murray, who dropped down too fast on the save – reminiscent of the overtime goal he surrendered to Joonas Donskoi in the Penguins’ Game 3 loss.
He couldn’t be faulted on Logan Couture’s tip-in for the Sharks’ second goal. He said Melker Karlsson’s goal, on a sweet little Couture pass, was a “flub” that was difficult to stop. And he didn't, as the Sharks took a lead they wouldn't surrender.
Three goals on seven shots. Not great. But in Murray’s self-assessment, just fine.
“I felt like I was on top of things tonight, to be honest. Again, they kind of fan on the one. And I probably could have played the Burns goal better. Apart from that, they got a few lucky bounces but, yeah, I mean, I felt really good. Felt on top of it. Was great in the second and third,” he said.
Murray finished with 19 saves on the night, and didn’t allow the Sharks another goal in the final 40 minutes. (Joe Pavelski had the empty netter for the Sharks.)
The first period was a mess for both teams, as they combined for five goals and 22 shots. Although the Penguins’ rallied, it was the loosest period defensively for them in the Final.
“I thought our team as a whole was a little bit unsettled at the start of the game, but we settled in fast. We didn’t have the start that we liked, but I really like that we battled back as quick as we did,” said coach Mike Sullivan, who said he didn't consider benching Murray for Marc-Andre Fleury after the first. “Matt settled in as the game went on, as did the team.”
Despite tens of thousands of fans inside and outside the arena ready to see the Penguins hoist the Cup on home ice, Murray said nerves weren’t a factor in his shaky start.
“I was in the moment. I didn’t think I played badly by any means. As a team, we sat on our heels at the start a little bit,” he said. “I thought I handled it pretty well. I don’t think that affected how I played. I was pretty sharp early, made a couple of good saves, and then after the third one I shut it down. Played really well after the third one.”
Maybe the way you move forward is to not look back. It’s a classic hockey player cliché – forget the losses, focus on the next game.
And this is, in fact, Murray’s process. Think back to that Game 3 loss and that long distance Joel Ward goal in the third period that sapped the Penguins’ momentum after an impressive penalty kill. “I don’t want to say I didn’t give up a bad goal or had a bad game necessarily,” said Murray after the game. “There’s always something you could have done [better], for sure. But you don’t dwell on it.”
To his credit, it works. Murray is 5-0, with a 1.76 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, following a loss this postseason.
We’ll have to wait until Sunday to see if the trend continues in Game 6. Murray believes it will.
“We played a heck of a game tonight. If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape,” he said.
“We’re a confident group, you know?”
With a confident goalie, too.
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