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Penguins leaning toward Murray to start Stanley Cup Qualifiers: report

Coach Sullivan says there are 'extremely high expectations' for goalie @NHLdotcom

Matt Murray is likely to be the starting goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins when the Stanley Cup Qualifiers begin, The Athletic reported this week.

"We have extremely high expectations for Matt," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Tuesday. "He has shown the ability to play at his very best when the stakes are at their highest, and I can't think of a better characteristic to have for an athlete."

Murray, a Stanley Cup champion in 2016 and 2017, lost the starting job to Tristan Jarry during this season but was playing well before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

He was 20-11-5 with a 2.87 goals-against average and .899 save percentage this season. Murray started four of Pittsburgh's final five games before the pause, winning three. He made 14 starts and Jarry made 12 after Jan. 9; Murray was 8-5-1 with a 2.79 GAA and .903 save percentage, Jarry was 6-6-0 with a 3.07 GAA and .899 save percentage.

"You could see [Matt] playing at a more consistent level in the second half of the season," Sullivan said. "We really liked the way he was trending. He certainly has shown, in my time with him, that he's a better goaltender in the second half of the season and into the [Stanley Cup Playoffs]. His track record speaks for itself. He's a good goaltender in this league."

Video: Murray, Holtby, Binnington discuss NHL Pause

Pittsburgh (40-23-6, .623 points percentage) is the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and will play the No. 12 seed Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, .500) in a best-of-5 series, with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jarry, who this season played in the NHL All-Star Game for the first time, was 20-12-1 with a 2.43 GAA and .921 save percentage. He has never played in a playoff game.

"What I would say is that we are comfortable with both guys," Sullivan said. "That's been the consistent message all year long. The staff will have decisions to make at all positions. And it's a very unique circumstance right now. That's the reality of the business we are all in. But I know this: They are both capable guys, and both have great track records."

With Marc-Andre Fleury recovering from a concussion, Murray was Pittsburgh's primary goalie in the 2016 playoffs, going 15-6 when the Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks for the championship. He took over from Fleury during the 2017 playoffs and won seven of 10 games, including the Cup Final win against the Nashville Predators.

General manager Jim Rutherford said May 5 he expected Murray to be the starter when this season resumed, though the choice would be made by Sullivan.

"But in my opinion, yeah, he was going to be the guy," Rutherford said of Murray. "He's the guy with the experience that time of year, he's the guy that has had so much success in the postseason, and he was starting to play really well. I could sense him really playing better and gearing up for the playoffs. He's done it before. We were quite pleased with how his game was coming along."

NHL teams have been allowed to conduct voluntary, limited small-group workouts at team facilities since June 8 in Phase 2 of the Return to Play Plan. Training camps for the 24 teams resuming play will open July 10; Phase 3 will occur provided that medical and safety conditions allow, and the parties have reached an agreement on resuming play. The length of training camp, the start date and the locations for resumption of play (Phase 4) have not been announced.

Tweet from @TheAthleticPGH: It's looking more and more like Matt Murray will be the starting goalie when the Penguins start playing again. @JoshYohe_PGH spoke to Mike Sullivan this afternoon:

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