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Penguins' Murray unfazed by big stage

Rookie goaltender exudes confidence ahead of series against Ovechkin, Capitals

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray still feels awed from time to time.

The rookie didn't rule out getting caught in the moment when he faces Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; CBC, NBCSN, TVA Sports). That said, Murray doesn't expect it to affect his performance.

"I still haven't played that many games at this level," Murray said. "I've only played three playoff games, so there was a guy here earlier asking me if there was one game that stands out where I kind of felt like I belonged. I still haven't had that, I don't think. I'm always looking to prove myself.

"I'm definitely still starstruck by some of these guys, but at the same time you have to feel like you belong to an extent."

Video: Matt Murray on opening series win, playing the Caps

Murray, 21, split his two regular-season starts against the Capitals. He lost 3-2 on March 1 before winning 4-3 in overtime on April 7. As he sat at his locker stall Wednesday, Murray imagined gloving an Ovechkin shot during the second round and recalled denying Washington's captain in their last meeting.

"I remember I stopped him one time from the slot in a pretty good scoring area in that last game in Washington," Murray said, "and it definitely gives you a little bit of confidence. I know that I can play at this level, but I'm never going to stop trying to prove that I can."

None of Ovechkin's nine shots beat Murray.

Despite Murray's comments, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan doesn't believe the goaltender truly gets anxious during games.

"I think Matt's being humble and he's a very respectful person," Sullivan said. "He loves hockey and so he's a guy that's watched the game for a long time. He has a lot of respect for players in this League. But I also think he has a quiet confidence that he knows he belongs on the ice with this group."

After returning from an upper-body injury in Game 3 of Pittsburgh's Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers, Murray won his first three Stanley Cup Playoffs starts. He's expected to start for a fourth time Thursday with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury recovering from his second concussion of the season.

Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Murray stones Fast on the doorstep

Madison Square Garden introduced Murray to the playoffs and he allowed one goal on 48 shots in two games.

"Everything [in the playoffs] has little more heightened intensity, I guess," Murray said. "MSG was obviously a pretty intimidating place for my first playoff game, for sure. I had been on the bench there a couple times, so that helped a little bit, just to know what it was like."

After those two starts, and his previous two appearances in Washington, Murray is prepared for the Verizon Center crowd on Thursday.

"It's nice just to know the arena and it's definitely a hostile environment, and they're pretty loud there," he said. "I guess it's good to know what to expect in that regard."

Murray went 9-2-1 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in the regular season, winning seven consecutive starts before sustaining his injury in the Penguins' final regular-season game against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 9. 

So far in the playoffs, the Penguins have relied on Murray and goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who won one of his two starts against the Rangers. Defenseman Olli Maatta said Pittsburgh has faith in each of its three goalies.

"Anybody who's been in the net has been great for us and has given us a chance to win," Maatta said. "I don't think it changes anything."

Said Murray: "We're on a journey here and this is my first time experiencing a playoff run in the NHL. So, it's exciting and I'm anxious to get started, obviously, but it's still hockey, so I can't kind of overplay anything. I can't overhype it. It's all hockey and I've done this 1,000 times before."

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