CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan ended a potential debate and controversy that never should have been brewing in the first place with a quick answer to a question that had to be asked Monday.
Reporter: "Mike, any chance you'd like to name your Game 6 starting goalie and take all the mystery out of it?"
Sullivan: "Matt Murray."
There really never should have been any hint of a debate and/or controversy about the Penguins goalie for Game 6 against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Murray is the right choice. Not that Sullivan needs anyone to tell him that. And saying it publicly Monday also was smart because it ends any speculation.
Marc-Andre Fleury, ready as he may be, experienced as he is, should not play against the Capitals unless Murray gets injured and can't go. The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 in large part because of Murray, so he deserves the opportunity to finish Washington, whether that comes in Game 6 or, if necessary, Game 7 at Verizon Center on Thursday.
Video: Murray starting instead of Fleury
Murray is 6-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in eight consecutive starts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He has a .926 save percentage and 2.33 GAA in five games against Washington. He is 3-0 with a .939 save percentage when coming off a loss during the playoffs, including a 23-save effort in Game 2 against Washington.
On the other hand, Tuesday will make 40 days since the last time Fleury played, March 31 against the Nashville Predators. That night he sustained his second concussion of the season. He dressed as Murray's backup for the first time in Game 3 against the Capitals.
Sullivan surely knows contemplating the switch to Fleury now, or leaving open a hint of the potential of a change, would be seen as a sign of panic from the Penguins, who for the most part have been stoic, resilient and confident in the postseason.
Sullivan and the Penguins have no reason to panic now, no reason to make any changes other than potentially inserting defenseman Olli Maatta in the lineup if he's cleared to play.
"We deal with the hand that we're dealt," Sullivan said. "The reality is Marc is a terrific goalie; we know that. Unfortunately he suffered an injury late in the season that kept him out for an extended period of time. That's a difficult circumstance. It's nobody's fault. It is what it is. So it's our job to try to manage it the right way."
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Murray stones Johansson in the 3rd
To manage this the right way, Sullivan should be thinking Murray is his guy regardless of what happens in Game 6. The Penguins should live and die with Murray in this round. Because while Fleury may be ready, odds are he's rusty. The Penguins can't afford to have him shaking off the rust this deep into the series. They certainly can't afford it if they wind up facing a must-win Game 7.
Provided Murray gets the job done and helps the Penguins advance, Sullivan can re-evaluate the situation and potentially go to Fleury for the start of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It would be a new series and a fresh start, so it would make far more sense than going to Fleury late in a series against the Capitals.
It's easier to let a goalie shed some rust in a Game 1, when the teams are feeling each other out and the series has yet to take on an identity. Even Fleury seems to get that. He understands the predicament he's in.
"It's all right," he said. "You know, we're winning some games, we're up 3-2 on the Caps, on the team that had the best record in the League. I'm just trying to cheer the guys on and be positive around the room and keep on winning."
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm4: Murray preserves tie with pair of stops
So how did this become a topic of conversation and a question that had to be asked Monday?
Murray allowed three goals on 19 shots in a 3-1 loss in Game 5 at Verizon Center on Saturday. On the surface it would seem that if Sullivan was looking for an opening to get Fleury back in, now would be the time, even if Murray hardly was to blame for the goals allowed in Game 5.
Clearly Sullivan is not looking for that opening, nor should he be. Sullivan wouldn't have fielded a question on his starting goalie Monday had it been Fleury who had started eight straight games and was coming off a 16-save effort in a 3-1 loss the way Murray is now.
The only reason it became a topic is because Murray is a 21-year-old rookie while Fleury is a 31-year-old veteran with a Stanley Cup ring.
But that shouldn't matter. Sullivan had to go with the goalie that got him this far. He made the right call, both in selecting Murray and saying it publicly Monday.