It turns out Mike Sullivan’s decision to start Matt Murray for Game 4 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference final was the right one.
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Murray, who hadn’t started a game since April 6, looked comfortable making 24 saves as the Penguins defeated the Ottawa Senators 3-2 to tie the best-of-seven series 2-2, with Game 5 Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
“I thought Matt was solid,” said Sullivan, the Penguins head coach. “He made some timely saves for us when we needed it, and I thought he was solid. He has a calm demeanour about him. I thought he was tracking the puck extremely well. And certainly, he made a couple of key saves for us at key times.”
Murray was tested by the Senators Mike Hoffman and Viktor Stalberg in the opening minutes of the game and made a couple of big saves.
“He made a really big save early on with his leg when the guy kind of went around him after a rebound and I think right after that our team went into the offensive side and really played at the puck and gave us that momentum,” said Chris Kunitz. “I think we did an all around good job tonight.”
Fleury sits despite strong play
There was much debate about who the Penguins would start for this game considering how well Marc-Andre Fleury had played the past five and a half weeks.
Fleury was thrown into action when Murray suffered a lower body injury prior to Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round of the playoffs.
The popular 32-year-old was instrumental in series wins over Columbus and Washington. In the first two games of this series Fleury allowed just two goals, but in Game 3 he gave up four goals on nine shots and opened the door to Murray, who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship last season. He allowed just one goal on 20 shots in relief.
Fleury had made it clear he wanted to be back in goal, but wasn’t given the opportunity.
“I don’t want to make this about myself,” said Fleury following the game. “We scored some goals. That was nice. We won. It’s good.”
Jumping into the pressure
Considering the magnitude of this game, especially if the Penguins had lost, Murray played with poise, but admitted there are some challenges when jumping into the pressure of the playoffs after a layoff.
“I don’t know what the biggest challenge is,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of challenges. It’s not an easy thing to do. But like I said before, all I can really do is kind of jump in and try not to think about it. Just try and play with the flow of the game and kind of let yourself get lost in the game a little bit. I thought I did a pretty good job of that tonight.
“There’s a lot of ways I could have been a lot better I thought, but all together felt good about the game.”
Senators coach Guy Boucher gave full credit to the Penguins for their effort and didn’t feel the change in goal had any real effect on Ottawa.
“They were the better team tonight for two periods and they deserved the game,” he said.