NEW YORK -- Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray stood in front of his crease, in a dark arena illuminated only by the LED wristbands every fan received. His head was moving left and right, stopping for a second at each turn. Murray was doing what you'd think he'd be doing, what any 21-year-old rookie goalie should be doing in the moments before starting his first Stanley Cup Playoff game.
"I was looking around at all the blue lights there during the anthem," Murray said, "just saying to myself, 'This is it, you're in the playoffs, in the NHL.' Really cool moment."
In that moment, he was a ball of nerves wrapped up in goalie equipment, but you'd have never known. It was impossible to tell he was battling butterflies by the way he played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
Murray made 16 saves, enough to make the Penguins' sterling defensive performance stand up in a 3-1 win that gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Murray stops Stepan's stuff-in attempts
It wasn't about how many saves Murray made, it was about the fact that that he was making them at all.
Murray didn't know until after warmups that he was definitely going to start. He was told Monday that he was the choice to start over Jeff Zatkoff, who started the first two games of the series, but admitted it was still touch and go through Tuesday.
"It was a gametime decision," Murray said. "I had the provisional medical clearance and then today we just tried to stay on top of things and see how I felt. After warmups, I came in, doc gave me the good to go."
Murray hadn't played since the last game of the regular season on April 9, when he was hit in the head by Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn's hip late in the first period. He was knocked out of the game and out of position to start the series against New York in place of the similarly concussed Marc-Andre Fleury.
He had one full team practice to prepare for his start. That was Monday. He also had the morning skate Tuesday, but that was optional and not attended by every Penguins' skater.
Video: PIT@NYR: Gm3: Murray robs Stepan, Pens clear rebound
"Once I got the medical clearance, I was able to settle in, take a deep breath and say, 'It's go time,' " Murray said.
He went. It was almost perfect. Murray's only blunder that mattered was when he was beaten glove side high by Rick Nash on a shorthanded breakaway 39 seconds into the second period.
"I thought I could have made a lot better effort on that goal," Murray said, "but I was able to shut it down after that, so it was cool."
Cool. That's a perfect word to use to describe Murray. He's about as cool as they come for a 21-year-old who came into his first playoff start with only 13 games of NHL experience, including nine starts since March 1.
He was nervous, but not to the point where it was destructive.
"This was his first NHL playoff game so I'm sure any time that happens the butterflies are a part of it," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "If it didn't, I'd be worried about you. It's exciting hockey. I knew once the puck dropped he'd be fine and settle into his game."
His first save came 1:18 into the game on Keith Yandle's wrist shot through traffic. Murray caught it and froze it.
"After that I settled in and felt more comfortable," Murray said.
Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Murray denies Yandle's wrist shot
He made a big save on Derek Stepan's 24-foot snap shot at 6:03. He finished the first period with six saves and was helped by Sullivan's smart coach's challenge that wiped Chris Kreider's power-play goal off the board at 12:43 because J.T. Miller entered the zone offside.
Murray made six more saves in the second and four in the third. The Penguins did a marvelous job limiting the shots he had to face by dominating the puck all night, but Murray showed up when they needed him. That is, after all, his job.
"That was Matt Murray. That's what he does," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "He's been calm and spectacular in net. He's a pleasure to play in front of."
Lovejoy was asked to put himself in Murray's shoes, to try to come up with the emotions he'd be feeling if he were 21 and starting his first playoff game at the Garden. He could only think about what he was doing in the spring when he was 21.
Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Murray stones Fast on the doorstep
"I was drinking beers in my frat basement," Lovejoy said.
Murray was starting for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. His dream was coming true.
"It really hasn't sunk in," Murray said. "You think about when you're growing up; you watch this kind of hockey all the time, and I would get nervous watching on the couch when I was a kid. Now I'm involved in a game, starting my first playoff game. Man, it was a pretty crazy moment."
He earned the right to do it all over again Thursday.