TORONTO — It’s not quite the happy ending of the Silver Linings Playbook. It’s not even a happy ending at all. The Pittsburgh Penguins had another promising season smashed with an astonishing playoff failure on Friday. The 12th seeded Montreal Canadiens quickly kicked the fifth-seeded Penguins out of the NHL bubble, three games to one, but the Game 4 performance of Tristan Jarry stands out as the silver lining in an otherwise epic embarrassment.
By performing extraordinarily well on the big stage, Jarry answered the last remaining question, too. Could he perform well under pressure in the playoffs?
Jarry stopped 20 of 21 shots, including six of seven high-danger chances. The totals seem small, but the performance was not.
Jarry was demoted and kept in the AHL last season. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has been direct that the demotion was a message to Jarry to improve his practice habits and mature as a player. He did that.
“His practice habits have drastically improved. It’s part of the maturation process,” Sullivan said Friday morning before Game 4. “He’s much more mature in his daily approach … I think that transfers. Those types of habits transfer to a game environment.”
Due to the coverage limitations of the NHL bubble, we didn’t get a chance to speak with Jarry, or teammates about the goalie. We don’t have flowing quotes or praise after Game 4, but you can imagine he would get a few stick taps from the boys.
Silver linings in that playoff series, which ended abruptly and quickly, are few. It certainly wasn’t the play of pending free agent Justin Schultz or stalwart Evgeni Malkin. Sure, we got a couple of months of run-up excitement and distraction from contextless daily virus counts. And that hope of a great adventure permeated all of us.
And the adventure ended with a flat tire in the driveway.
Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry Decision
The Penguins have a flat salary cap to limbo under for the next few years, maybe more. As a result, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford likely must choose between his goalies, Matt Murray or Jarry, and trade the other.
Jarry is the presumed favorite to stick around, if for no other reason than his relative affordability. However, until Friday, Jarry had never started a playoff game, or even a big game, for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sullivan started Murray in the Penguins big games in the second half of the season against Washington. Jarry faced top-notch teams like Tampa Bay and Boston, but those regular-season games aren’t the intense battles like games against Washington.
So, until Friday, the question remained unanswered.
And Tristan Jarry nearly stole the show. As the Penguins and Montreal struggled at 0-0 through the second and third periods, Montreal went for it. Montreal broke the malaise with aggressive attacks and slipped shooters behind the Penguins defense.
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Montreal had 62.5% of the scoring chances and 70% of the high-danger chances in Game 4. It is patently absurd for a good team facing elimination to yield that ratio, but Jarry held the net.
He steered rebounds to open ice without serving pizzas in the slot.
In the third period, Brendan Gallagher whacked the glass in frustration after Jarry stopped him on a breakaway with a windmill glove save. It was the second Grade-A chance for Gallagher in a few minutes. Jarry stopped them both with flare.
Montreal had the better chances throughout the second and third period. Jarry matched Montreal goalie and noted brick wall Carey Price until four Penguins failed to cover Artturi Lehkonen in front of the net with less than five minutes remaining.
Montreal should have blown out the Penguins in Game 4, but Jarry kept the Penguins in the game.
Jarry well outperformed Murray for most of the regular season and posted significantly better statistics. Jarry posted a .921 save percentage against Murray’s anemic .899. And, Jarry had a 2.43 goals against average compared to Murray’s 2.87.
According to Hockey-Reference, Jarry also had a goals-saved-above-average score of 11.07, which is well above average. Murray was minus-11.70.
The final test for Jarry was to show his skills on the big stage. He didn’t get that chance in the first three games. After his performance in Game 4, we’re left to wonder what might have been had Jarry started the series.
Murray shouldn’t take too much blame, but he didn’t earn much credit, either.
Jarry, 25, has waited his turn after the meteoric rise of Murray through the minors and past him on the organizational depth chart. Murray won two Stanley Cups as a rookie and earned a big-game reputation.
But Murray isn’t that goalie often enough and his past two seasons as the starter have not gone well. He surged in the second half last season after an abysmal first half and again sank in the first half of this season. He was not at his best in the qualifying round, either.
Tristan Jarry answered the final question which loomed, and he resoundingly did so. We likely saw the baton passed again, from one goalie to the next.
And his performance was the only silver lining.