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Conference Final

Matt Murray doesn't miss beat, leads Penguins to Game 4 win vs. Senators

Goalie makes 24 saves in first start since April 6 to help even Eastern Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- They were two goaltenders heading in different directions: Matt Murray returning to his role as the Pittsburgh Penguins starter and Marc-Andre Fleury returning to the bench.

Murray did what he always seems to do in these high-pressure situations and made 24 saves to help the Penguins hold on for a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 of Eastern Conference Final at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage]

 

That included big saves against Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson in the final 16 seconds when the Senators were on the power play and pulled goaltender Craig Anderson for a 6-on-4 advantage. Not bad for someone who hadn't started a game since April 6 because of a lower-body injury.

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports), when Murray appears likely to start again.

"I just tried to approach it like any other game," Murray said. "I've had to come back from injury before this year and basically tried not to think about it, just kind of jump in and just play."

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: Murray, Pens hold off Sens late in 3rd

Fleury also did what he always does and professionally fulfilled his duties as a teammate. He is arguably the player most responsible for the Penguins making it this far in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After Murray was injured warming up for Game 1 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Fleury started the first 15 playoff games for the Penguins but was pulled after giving up four goals in the first 12:52 of a 5-1 loss in Game 3 on Wednesday. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made the difficult decision to turn back to Murray, the 22-year-old rookie who played so well during the Stanley Cup run last season.

No doubt disappointed, Fleury, 32, accepted the decision, same as he did in the playoffs last season when Murray took over the No. 1 job while he was out because of a concussion. Just like he did during the regular season when Murray started the bulk of games when healthy.

"I don't want to make this about myself," Fleury said. "Like it's been last playoff [and] this season, it's about the team. We won tonight. We scored some goals. That was nice. We won. It's good."

Usually jovial and friendly, Fleury was measured with his words. Sullivan informed him after practice Thursday that Murray would start Game 5 in a conversation Fleury labeled as "private."

It could have been uncomfortable situation with Murray, but Fleury made sure it wasn't. When he and Murray went to the University of Ottawa to skate Friday morning, Fleury did his best to lighten the mood with some jokes.

"We've been going through this for a while now, and we both know the drill," Murray said. "Whoever's not in there is there to support the other. We've done a really good job of that here since we've been playing together. So I think we have a really good relationship in that way. We just kept things light this morning when we were at morning skate, and I think that helped me a lot with keeping the nerves down and stuff like that.

"[Fleury] is always good for that, knowing when to joke around and when to say the right thing. I've said it all along, he's been great with me in that regard, and I owe a lot to him for sure."

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: Murray stretches for great toe save

These things don't go unnoticed among teammates. The Penguins know how important Fleury has been in their bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. They also know how much he wants to play.

Having broken into the NHL in 2003-04 with the Penguins, he's their longest-tenured player and owns two Stanley Cups rings. He'll likely be traded or claimed by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights this summer, but he's kept his focus on helping the Penguins win, either by playing or stepping aside as he did Friday.

"He's probably the best teammate I've ever played with. I can easily say that," Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin said. "He's always positive."

That's why the Penguins felt so bad about letting Fleury down with their poor start in Game 3. He was far from the only Penguin to blame, but he didn't get a chance to redeem himself in Game 4.

The rest of the Penguins did by playing solidly in front of Murray.

"We didn't put him in a very good spot with the way we played last game," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Fleury. "I think we all knew that, so we wanted to make sure we were better here tonight."

The Penguins were and can take control of the series with another win on Sunday. It's likely Murray's net to lose now, but the Penguins won't forget Fleury's role in this if they go on to win the Cup again.

"We believe that we have both guys back there that are really high quality goaltenders," Sullivan said. "So these decisions aren't easy, which particular guy that we choose to put in the net. Certainly, we trust these guys, and that's why we can make these types of decisions."

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: Murray shuts down Hoffman, Stalberg

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