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Murray says one stat matters for Penguins: 'Wins are most important'

Goalie ignores most numbers, focused on giving teammates confidence to play their game

by Wes Crosby / Independent Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Matt Murray only cares about one stat.

"Wins are the most important thing," the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie said this week.

Murray is 22nd in the NHL with a 2.62 goals-against average and 25th with a .909 save percentage entering play Friday. But Murray's coaches and teammates don't think what he brings can be found in those numbers.

Instead they look at the results. Entering Pittsburgh's game against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-SW, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV), Murray has won four of his past five starts. The 25-year-old has allowed two goals or fewer goals in four of his past seven starts.

In a 7-4 win against the Minnesota Wild on Oct. 12, Murray made 29 saves for his 100th NHL victory. He allowed two goals in winning each of his next two games, and after making 18 saves in a 4-2 loss against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, he has 102 wins in 169 games (102-45-14).

"I've always said that you take goalies for granted until you don't have one," coach Mike Sullivan said. "When you have a guy like Matt that brings a consistent game night in and night out, it certainly gives our team a much better chance to win games consistently."

Video: PIT@FLA: Murray stops Dadonov's wrister from the slot

That has been the case since Murray made his NHL debut Dec. 19, 2015. At that time, starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was out with a concussion.

Murray went 9-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 save percentage in 13 regular-season games and 15-6 during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.

He started the 2016-17 season as the Penguins' No. 1 goalie and led Pittsburgh to a second consecutive championship.

Fleury was Murray's backup for most of the two championship runs and was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft. But he's kept tabs on Murray from afar.

"I think Matt's always very relaxed, always focused," Fleury said. "And very mature for his age too. I think he's also very consistent. Every night you know what you're getting from him. That's what makes him a good goalie throughout the regular season."

Murray's demeanor has been praised through his five NHL seasons. His tendency to minimize teammates' mistakes is just as prominent, Sullivan said.

That's been especially true this season. Saturday will be the ninth straight game the Penguins have played without forwards Evgeni Malkin (lower body) and Alex Galchenyuk (lower body). Defenseman Brian Dumoulin (lower body) is expected to miss his fourth straight game. The Penguins also have been without forward Nick Bjugstad for the last nine games because of a lower-body injury, but he could play against the Stars, as could forward Bryan Rust, who has been out all season because of an upper-body injury.

"As I've said, it's hard to win in this League if you don't get a key save at a key time during the course of a game," Sullivan said. "Matt has provided that for us."

One of those timely saves came against the Stars at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 18. With the Penguins leading 3-2, Dallas forward Joe Pavelski redirected a wrist shot from defenseman Andrej Sekera. Murray slid to his right, tracking Sekera's shot, and then kicked out his left pad to get a toe on the deflection.

The puck went off the post with 1:08 remaining in the third period, and Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson cleared it. Kris Letang scored into an empty net with 22 seconds left to cap a 4-2 win.

Video: DAL@PIT: Murray keep Penguins ahead with late save

"I think sometimes he makes what are tough saves look not as tough," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "When you see that calmness and that poise, I think that gives everybody a lift. That gives everybody a certain sense of confidence. ... I think you look at your goaltender for that kind of leadership. When he's consistent and strong in the net like that every night, I think it's a big boost for everybody."

It specifically impacts how the defensemen approach a game.

"You don't really think about it," defenseman Justin Schultz said. "You know you're going to get the saves."

Murray thinks providing that level of comfort is what matters.

"You try to do everything you can," he said. "Some days you feel better than others. I think it's about, even when you don't feel so good, still giving your team a chance to win. That's all you can do as a goalie. So that's all I try to do. Just try to simplify.

"I just try to stop every puck I can. Make every play that I can when I'm behind the net, puck handling, whatever it might be. Just do whatever I can to help the team. Try to get better and better at that each and every day."

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