PHILADELPHIA — There hadn’t been much talk about Matt Murray through the first five games of the Penguins’ first-round series against Philadelphia.
He hadn’t been consistently great — witness a couple leaky goals getting through in Games 2 and 5 — but his calm presence and play-reading ability kept the Penguins in good shape in Games 3 and 4, allowing them the opportunity put a 3-1 choke hold on the series.
Then came Sunday’s Game 6, when Murray’s ill-executed poke check early in the first period led to Sean Couturier‘s first of three goals, followed in the second period by a whiff on Scott Laughton‘s 35-foot unscreened wrister, putting the Penguins in a 4-2 hole at a frothing Wells Fargo Center.
If you thought of Game 7 at that moment, you weren’t alone. In fact, if you thought about Casey DeSmith coming on in relief, you had something in common with Mike Sullivan, who asked his backup goalie to get ready after Laughton’s deflating strike.
“We were contemplating on the bench whether to make a goalie change,” Sullivan said during his post-game press conference. “My gut was telling me to stay with Matt. He’s such a battler. It was a crazy game in that regard, with how some of the goals were scored.
“We did talk about it on the bench, just to try to change the momentum at that particular time. My gut was telling me to stick with Matt and I’m glad I did, because he came up with some big saves in the third.”
You know by now the Penguins rallied with five straight goals, four by Jake Guentzel, to eliminate the Flyers, 8-5. It wasn’t all offense, though, as Murray only had to make six saves from the Laughton goal until Guentzel’s fourth made it a three-goal Pittsburgh lead.
“It’s a really resilient game from us,” Murray said. “I’m really proud of this team. … We stuck with it the whole way. Just a really gutsy effort.”
If you had to pin down a redeeming moment for Murray, it occurred during the Flyers’ four-on-three power play midway through the third with the Penguins leading by a single goal. Kris Letang had just taken a reckless cross-checking penalty, drilling Sean Couturier into the Penguins’ goal, thus setting up Philadelphia with plenty of room to create the tying goal.
Instead, Murray stopped Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere on one-timers, adding to the shot-blocking efforts of Brian Dumoulin and Tom Kühnhackl and the faceoff prowess of Riley Sheahan to deny the desperate Flyers.
“It was a big part of the game,” Sullivan said. “It was a huge part of the game. … I thought the guys on the ice did a tremendous job. They made good reads, they were in shot lanes, they blocked a few shots. And Matt made one 10-bell save. I think it was his best save of the night.”
Maybe the final result of the game (and the series) allowed Murray to more easily move past a sketchy 21-for-26 performance between the pipes. Just because the Penguins have lifted the Cup in consecutive Junes doesn’t mean they and Murray have been in constant cruise control.
“Things are never always going to go your way,” Murray said. “Sometimes you’ve got to fight it a little bit. Tonight wasn’t a perfect game. Not even close. But the most important thing is you get the win.”
And it helps when your coach gives you a little leeway. After these past two playoff runs, it’s tough to say Murray didn’t deserve it.
Thanks to Dan Kingerski for providing the original reporting from Philadelphia.