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Analysts: Fleury should start for Penguins in Game 5

Most favor No. 1 goalie over Murray against Lightning

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Matt Murray or Marc-Andre Fleury debate has been the dominant storyline in the Eastern Conference Final heading into Game 5 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) .

Fleury will get the start, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced following Pittsburgh's morning skate. It will be his first start since March 31. He made seven saves in the third period of Game 4, his first appearance since sustaining the injury.

 

Murray, the Penguins' 21-year-old rookie, has started the past 13 games, equaling his NHL regular season experience.

"We're trying to make the best decisions that we can, that we think give our team the best chance to win," Sullivan said. "That's the route or direction we chose to take for this game."

Sullivan's decision is in line with the thinking of eight of nine analysts NHL.com contacted Saturday. They were all asked to play the role of Sullivan and to make the decision. Eight named Fleury as their Game 5 starter. The only Murray backer was NBC's Keith Jones.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm4: Murray denies Callahan, Filppula

"I would go back to Murray as long as Sullivan has the belief that the proper mindset is there for Murray, and I think he knows that because he knows the goalie well," Jones said. "It's an easy argument for Fleury and that would be the easiest choice for Sullivan, but winning in the playoffs isn't about easy choices. I haven't seen enough from Fleury. Seven shots on goal in a game where a team is leading by four goals to me is not a true measurement that that goaltender is ready to go. And I don't feel like the Penguins are in a desperate situation."

Jones, though, wasn't surprised to hear he was in the minority. 

Here, then, are eight reasons why the other eight analysts chose Fleury, just like Sullivan:

1. He's the Penguins' No. 1 and was arguably their MVP in the regular season

"From the beginning I thought whenever Marc-Andre Fleury would be 100 percent to play he should get back in the net," TSN analyst and former NHL goalie Martin Biron said. "We're not talking about Marc-Andre Fleury of three years or four years ago. He's completely changed his game. He's much more structured, relaxed. He's a much better goalie now, especially for playoff consistency. He should be the guy."

"Murray has done a great job, but the experience that Fleury has is just too valuable not to use at this point," said NBC analyst and former NHL goalie Brian Boucher. "Murray's time will come, but it's time for Fleury."

2. The Penguins rallied behind Fleury in the third period Friday

"He came in and they scored three goals," NBC analyst and former NHL player Jeremy Roenick said. "That's a big momentum shift going into Game 5."

"They pushed and they only gave up seven shots," Hall of Fame defenseman and NHL Network analyst Scott Stevens said. "At some point you have to think Fleury has to help you win to win the Cup. It's only 20 minutes, but at this point, because of the way the team responded and Fleury being a veteran guy who has won the Cup, I'd go back to him."

"I thought if it wasn't for Matt Murray it would have been 7-0 or 8-0 going into that third period [Friday], but if I'm Mike, I'm thinking, 'Does Fleury give us a little bit of a juice and energy that we can use?' " TSN analyst and former NHL general manager Craig Button said. "I don't think it comes down to he's better than Matt Murray, it comes back to the juice part."

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm4: Fleury stones Namestnikov on doorstep

3. Fleury played well when he got in Friday

"Even if you are playing every game for two weeks, when you come into the third period the game goes a lot faster than it does in the first five minutes, but he handled pressure situations," Biron said. "When it's 4-2 and 4-3 and your team is coming up, you know the next shot and the next save is important."

"The Penguins had to open up to a certain extent in that third period to score some goals," Stevens said. "Fleury was going to get some quality chances against and he handled them." 

4. Starting Fleury would give the Penguins and their fans a jolt

"Home ice matters when the crowd is behind you, and one of the ways of getting the crowd behind you quickly is to have Marc-Andre Fleury lead the team out of the tunnel," said NBC analyst and former Penguins assistant coach Pierre McGuire. "I lived this with Mario Lemieux when I was coaching there. When he was hurt, there was a certain level of anticipation in the crowd. When he was coming back, there was a whole other level of anticipation. He meant that much to the franchise and to the players there, and it gives your team a jolt."

"You know darn well that those players don't want to let down Marc-Andre Fleury," Button said. "He could give them a little bit of lift in their game."

5. Sullivan no longer has to look for the opportune moment to go to Fleury

"Mike told Marc-Andre Fleury back in Game 2 to be ready, so Mike's dialed into it," Button said.

"We all saw Sullivan in Game 2 when he went to [talk to] Fleury," Stevens said. "I think he was waiting for the opportunity, the chance to get him back in the net."

6. Murray may be showing some signs of exhaustion or even weakness

"I always like to think of what am I seeing first and then see if the numbers back it up," Biron said. "It doesn't seem to me like he has the same pop, the same quickness as he did against the Rangers and early against Washington. His save percentage is .892 in his last six starts and that is not a number that you want."

"I think Matt Murray could be getting a little tired when every second night you're going at it," Stevens said. "It's high pressure."

7. Murray is resilient and will be fine if the Penguins have to go back to him

"I talk to their scouts all the time and the one thing they always talk about is how mature he is and how professional he is," McGuire said. "This won't affect him. He knows he got in there because of an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury and now he knows that Marc-Andre Fleury is healed. This is how the pecking order works in pro sports."

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm4: Murray makes a pair of left pad stops

8. Fleury has handled being the backup with grace

"The true test of the person inside the player is how are they when things don't always go their way," NHL Network analyst and former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes said. "You look at Fleury on the bench; of course you know he wants to play, but he's so positive. I see Murray come to the bench in TV timeouts, Fleury is looking at him in his eyes, he'll tap him on the blocker, say a word or two of encouragement. I know that goes a long way within the group, with the fellas and the coaching staff."

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