Rookie Helps Lead Penguins to the Finals for the First Time Since 2009

Matt Murray was the unsung hero last night as the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals against the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

Murray, the 6 foot 4 inch, 178 lbs goalie from Thunder Bay, Ontario, who was drafted by the Penguins in the third round, 83rd overall, in the 2012 entry draft was only 21 when the playoffs started. Young or not, he quickly became the Penguins number one goaltender during this year’s playoffs, even after veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was cleared to return.

Even before he laced up his skates for the Penguins, Murray was already making waves in the AHL with the Penguins affiliates, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. While there, Murray set a league record in March with a shutout streak of 304 minutes and 11 seconds.  He came within 71 seconds of his fifth consecutive shutout when the streak ended. During his last year in the AHL, Murray also held a 2.10 goals against average.

Goaltending in this year’s playoffs has been the biggest issue that the Penguins have had to face all year, forcing Pens Coach Mike Sullivan to continuously switch goalies from game to game before finally settling on Murray to take the reins going into Game 6 and 7.

The rookie, who turned 22 on Wednesday, had been in net since Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs against the New York Rangers but was pulled two periods into Game 4 because he allowed four goals on 30 shots.

In Game 5 with the Penguins and the Lightning tied 2-2 in the series, Marc-Andre Fleury took over the goaltending

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

duties but didn’t do too much better in net as he let in four goals on 25 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Lightning.

Many wonder whether the Penguins would have won Game 5 if Murray was in net, causing some fans to question whether or not Sullivan knew what he was doing when he swapped Fleury for Murray. But in the end, Sullivan knew exactly what he had to do to win the series and move on, and that was to put Murray back in net for Game 6 and 7.

Never letting his confidence waver, even after his benching in Game 5, Murray went back out in Game 6 and stopped an impressive 28 out of 30 shots in a 5-2 victory against the Lightning.

After a strong performance in game seven that saw Murray keep a returning Steven Stamkos off the scoreboard, he helped lead his team to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 2009. With his Game 7 win, he joined Ken Dryden and Mike Vernon as the only other goalie since 1968 to win 10 playoff games before he won 10 regular season games.

What Happens Next

In the finals, if he continues to be in net, he will come face to face with 26 year-old Sharks veteran goaltender Martin Jones who boasts a .919 save percentage and 2.12 goals against average in this year’s playoffs.