Skip to main content
Stanley Cup Final

Dryden: Murray's play speaks for itself

Canadiens Hall of Fame goaltender legend says Pittsburgh rookie 'writing his own story'

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- Ken Dryden has heard the comparisons. He understands the parallels. And like the rest of the hockey universe, the Montreal Canadiens goaltending legend is watching Pittsburgh Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray with great interest.

Dryden, 68, is politely declining media requests to speak about Murray, who was called up by the Penguins from the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for four games in December, nine more in March and April and now has them within two victories of a Stanley Cup championship.

The unflappable goalie's stellar play, Dryden says, is speaking more profoundly than any critique he might offer.

"He is doing very well," Dryden suggested in his only comment, "writing his own story."

Murray, 22, has been among the most compelling tales of this Stanley Cup Playoffs. The native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, has grabbed the postseason by the scruff of its neck and given it a shake.

Heading into Game 3 against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), Murray has won 13 playoff games and lost four, with a .926 save percentage and one shutout.

Murray, Dryden and Mike Vernon of the 1985-86 Calgary Flames are the only goaltenders to have won more Stanley Cup Playoff games than regular-season games in their rookie season. And that's not even entirely correct, because Dryden was officially a rookie the season following his brilliant first postseason.

If Murray's name is being mentioned these days in the same breath as Dryden's, it's not by the young man's choice.

"There's no comparison … to Ken Dryden. Makes me pretty uncomfortable, actually, to hear that," Murray said Friday following Pittsburgh's practice. "I don't know how to answer that."

Dryden, whose late father coincidentally was named Murray, was summoned late in the schedule from the AHL Montreal Voyageurs by Canadiens general manager Sam Pollock. The lanky law student, then 23, played six regular-season games -- all victories -- before leading the Canadiens to their 17th Stanley Cup victory with 12 playoff wins against eight losses.

Imagine: Dryden won the Stanley Cup before he had lost so much as one regular-season NHL game.

He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the 1971 playoffs, then set off into his first full season and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the League's top rookie in 1971-72.

The Canadiens drew the Boston Bruins in the Quarterfinals in 1971. Montreal was a massive underdog, given that the Bruins had finished 24 points ahead of them in the East Division.

But Dryden foiled Boston shooters again and again, anchoring the Canadiens' seven-game upset victory. He faced a stunning 40.9 shots per game.

The Bruins won Game 1 in Boston, a 3-1 decision, then took a 5-1 lead in Game 2. But the Canadiens scored six unanswered goals to stun the home team and the Boston Garden faithful. Montreal went on eliminate its old rival with a 4-2 victory in Game 7.

At the other end of the ice stood Gerry Cheevers, the veteran Bruins goalie who seethed at what he saw in the Montreal crease but, as a goaltending lodge brother, grudgingly admired Dryden's work.

"Did I say he had the best left hand since Jacques Plante? (Heck), he's got a better left than (heavyweight boxer) Joe Frazier," Cheevers wrote in his 1971 book "Goaltender," comparing Dryden with the Canadiens' goaltending pioneer of the 1950s.

"…how (Dryden) lies down across the goal-mouth when we're pressing, all six-feet-four of him sprawled out on his side, filling half the net with sheer bulk, an amazingly cool kid under these conditions. … He picked one [heck] of a time to play the best goal of his life. The long-legged [expletive] has been taking money out of my pocket."

The Canadiens went on to defeat the Minnesota North Stars in a six-game semifinal, then were pushed to the seven-game limit against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.

Dryden ended the playoffs with a .913 save percentage; he faced 42 or more shots in five of 20 games, with a high of 58 in a 2-1 double-overtime loss to Chicago in Game 1.

In his seminal 1983 book "The Game," Dryden wrote that the 1971 quarterfinal was "an eleven-day, seven-game kaleidoscope of scrambles, hotels, plane rides and feelings, but very few memories now remain."

He went on to catalogue, over two pages, more abstracts than specifics, notably recalling a burning/freezing sensation that he felt during Game 7 against Boston.

"I remember nothing more," Dryden wrote, "except that now when someone mentions that series, I get the same burning/freezing feeling through my body."

Murray might be feeling similar needles and pins during his glorious run through this postseason.

Dryden, whose storied 1970s career earned him six Stanley Cup championships, five Vezina trophies and Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 1983, is watching the young Penguins goalie with great admiration and keen insight.

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Murray makes stop, preserves Pens' lead

Today, the spotlight is bathing Murray much like it did a young Canadiens goaltender 45 years ago.

It was the late Scott Young who memorably considered Dryden's stunning playoff debut in his 1971 Toronto Telegram column:

"I never saw a goaltender before who, when the play became ultra-confusing in front of him, stretched out across the goal like a lady on a chaise lounge," Young wrote. "Low shots plunked into his pads and the high ones he caught. Resting all the time.

"That is a very engaging habit he has, too, no matter how hot the action has been, of greeting each stoppage of play by folding his arms over the top of his stick and leaning there like a streetcleaner resting on his broom."

View More