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Marc-Andre Fleury likely to start in goal for Penguins in second round

Playing in place of Matt Murray, who hasn't skated since sustaining lower-body injury before Game 1 of playoffs

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Marc-Andre Fleury will likely be the starting goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they begin their Eastern Conference Second Round series next week.

Matt Murray, Pittsburgh's No. 1 goalie heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has not skated since sustaining a lower-body injury during warmups for Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round. Pittsburgh, with Fleury in goal, won the series in five games.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Murray and forward Carl Hagelin (lower body) each rehabbed off-ice on Saturday.

Sullivan said he remains optimistic Murray and Hagelin, as well as forward Chris Kunitz (lower body) and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (upper body), will return at some point during the playoffs. Kunitz and Ruhwedel skated on their own Saturday.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm5: Fleury turns away Calvert's tip-in try

"Our hope is that there's a chance that all these guys will be available at some point here in a fairly timely manner," Sullivan said. "We're reluctant to put any timeframes on it just because I don't think it makes sense. I think when these guys get close, we'll let you know.

"You're going to see it anyway because they're going to join us at practice. But we are hopeful that we'll get all of these guys back."

In the meantime, the Penguins are comfortable with Fleury as the starter. He had a 2.52 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the five first-round starts. He allowed four goals on 123 shots in three home starts during the series.

Pittsburgh ended the best-of-7 series with a 5-2 win in Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday, when Fleury made 49 saves on 51 shots.

The Penguins will face either the Washington Capitals or Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. The Capitals lead that best-of-7 series 3-2 with Game 6 at Air Canada Centre on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, CSN-DC).

"We like [Fleury] a lot. I've played with him for like 10 years and he's a very good guy, a good goalie," Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin said. "It's been a tough year. The last year has been tough for him, but he's still smiling. He's an amazing guy.

"We like Murray too. The injury, this year [there have been] so many for him. It's a tough season for him, but I hope he's back. Both goalies are No. 1 on this team. But [Fleury] has played really well. I think he starts next series."

Murray, who went 15-6 in the Penguins' run to winning the Stanley Cup last spring, missed the first nine games of the regular season after breaking his hand on Sept. 19 while playing for Team North America in the World Cup of Hockey 2016. He made 32 saves in his first start, a 5-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 2.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm5: Fleury stretches for great pad stop

After sharing a starting role with Fleury early in the season, Murray transitioned into Pittsburgh's No. 1 goaltender. He was 32-10-4 with a 2.41 GAA and .923 save percentage in 49 games during his second NHL season.

Fleury's starts decreased from 58 last season, when he sustained two concussions, to 34 in 2016-17. He was 18-10-7 with a 3.02 GAA, his highest since 2005-06, and .909 save percentage, his lowest since 2009-10.

With a few days to reset between series, and Fleury's resurgence in the first round, the Penguins don't feel pressured to rush Murray's recovery.

"It's good for everyone just to get away from the game for a little bit and for guys who are banged up just to get a little rest and try to heal," defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. "Hopefully we'll get some more guys back whenever we play."

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