As usual, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby found a way to note the situation diplomatically and with tact. Players heard the low brow mock cheers for Penguins goalie Matt Murray in the early minutes of the first period and noted them with varying levels of subtlety. It must have been shocking for the players who have delivered one of the most surprising seasons in the NHL.
The Boston Bruins scored two goals in the first 2:02 on Sunday for a 2-0 lead. And mock cheers rained on Murray for several saves afterward.
Let’s cut to the chase. Penguins fans wanted Tristan Jarry in net, and when head coach Mike Sullivan went back to Murray, Penguins fans threw a temper tantrum. It was a full-on toddler meltdown in the middle of Walmart type temper tantrum.
“Fans were harder on our goalie than we would have liked,” Crosby said.
He could have admitted the Penguins’ success has apparently created a large number of spoiled and entitled fans for whom nothing less than domination using fan-preferred players will do, but he demurred amicably.
One player was easily heard by PHN and others in a common area using a pithy F-bomb in his description of the fans’ behavior. By the way, the Penguins came back to win the game over Boston, 4-3 on Sunday. Boston, as you may know (though the booing fans probably don’t), is the reigning Eastern Conference champ, and the leader of the stacked Atlantic Division.
The home team was justifiably stung by their “supportive” home fans turning on them so quickly despite their enormous success this season and in the past.
Murray had won four starts in a row (now five), and each start was progressively better, including allowing just one goal against Detroit on Friday. For those who argued the Penguins should start the “hot hand,” Murray was that hot hand.
And the two goals allowed were on odd-man rushes and shots at point-blank range, but those are irrelevant facts when a good hate is being lathered up. Murray isn’t what fans wanted, and they turned on the goalie after two quick goals.
“No comment,” Matt Murray quickly offered when a reporter asked about the rough treatment.
Perhaps Murray could have borrowed Patrick Roy’s line and said he couldn’t hear the fans because he had two Stanley Cup rings in his ears.
Instead of mock cheers and boos, perhaps some Penguins fans could flop to the ground and kick their arms and legs until they get what they want? If that doesn’t work, they could hold their breath.
The fan display was that obnoxious.
The Bronx cheers also caused some hard feelings in the locker room. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in the middle of a remarkable season, in which their record is 31-13-5, despite playing 28 games without Crosby, 13 games without Evgeni Malkin, despite missing top-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin and second pair puck-mover, Justin Schultz.
They have surged to within four points of the devastatingly good Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Metro Division. And on Sunday, none of that was good enough.
So, the Penguins fans offered their Mean Girls routine to one of the core players after two minutes of one game.
“I give Matt Murray a ton of credit. I thought he made some huge saves in the third period,” head coach Mike Sullivan offered. “We don’t win that game if Matt doesn’t make those saves.”
The Penguins locker room knows too well how recently Murray backstopped them to two Stanley Cup victories. It’s true, he has struggled in each of the last two Novembers and Decembers, then rounded into form as the games get more important. It’s also true he could have made a big save in the early minutes to limit the damage.
However, it’s truer that Murray wasn’t Jarry.
“We heard the (mock) cheers in the first. You’d like them not to do that, but Matt is a professional,” defenseman Kris Letang darkly chuckled in disbelief of the situation.
Sports is a “what have you done for me lately,” business, but two minutes is a shockingly quick heel turn. And repeated Bronx cheers deep into the first period with each Murray save brought the fanbase down a level each time.
I’ve been through Toronto fans singing, “Fire Wilson,” about former head coach Ron Wilson, and their Phil Kessel angst. I’ve been through minor league fans waiting in the hallway during the first intermission to dress down their top-line center for not fighting after scoring a goal to earn a 4-1 first period lead.
Sunday was a low water mark for Penguins fans. Perhaps there were simply a bunch of drunken Steelers fans still salty about another missed opportunity, and they brought their frustrations to PPG.
Earning 30 wins couldn’t buy a two minute grace period. Yeah, the Pittsburgh Penguins noticed Pittsburgh fans turn on them despite their extraordinary season. And fans should be embarrassed.