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Penguins' Murray trying to 'stay in the moment'

Pittsburgh rookie goalie showing 'maturity level beyond his years'

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. - There haven't been many breaks during the craziness of the Stanley Cup Playoffs whirlwind for Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray to sit back and try to comprehend how he's come so far so quickly.

Around this time in 2014, Murray, a third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Penguins, was finishing up his junior career with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League and turning pro. Two years later and still 10 days short of his 22nd birthday, he's taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and being talked about as a potential Conn Smythe Trophy winner should his magic ride carry the Penguins all the way to the Stanley Cup.

"Occasionally, you take a look back and you see what you've been through to get to this point, but not a whole lot," Murray said Sunday. "Maybe in between series or on a day off or something like that, but it's very brief and it's very short. You just try to stay in the moment and you look forward and you just look to get better each and every day and that's what I'm trying to do."

That even-keeled approach has served Murray well so far. It's one of the reasons Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is sticking with him as the starter for Game 2 of the best-of-7 series Monday at Consol Energy Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

After the Penguins lost 3-1 in Game 1 on Friday, there were questions again about whether Sullivan would turn to Marc-Andre Fleury, the veteran No. 1 who has been healthy for two weeks now after recovering from a concussion that had sidelined him since March 31. Although Sullivan toyed with some different line combinations during practice Sunday, possibly to try to get Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin going, he didn't hesitate to say Murray will start again Monday.

Video: See what Crosby had to say to the media

"He has a maturity level beyond his years," Sullivan said. "I think he responds to adversity extremely well. He has a really good work ethic and preparation process that he puts himself in a position to be successful, and he's a very good goalie. He's made timely saves throughout the course of this playoffs and leading up to the playoffs that have given our team a chance to win."

Sullivan, who was promoted to coach the Penguins on Dec. 12, said he watched Murray "do the same thing" when he coached him in the American Hockey League with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the first half of this season, so his success is "no surprise" to him. On the other hand, Tom Fitzgerald, who was an assistant to former Penguins general manager Ray Shero when Murray was drafted and oversaw operations in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when Murray played there last season, admits, "I would be lying to you if I said I thought he was going to be this great."

Fitzgerald, now an assistant GM with the New Jersey Devils, recalled how Murray was actually the backup in Sault Ste. Marie behind Dallas Stars 2010 first-round pick Jack Campbell for the second half of the season before the Penguins drafted the 6-foot-4, 178-pound Thunder Bay, Ontario native. Murray was the 83rd player and 10th goaltender selected that year.

Fitzgerald credited Penguins goalie coach Mike Bales, who was the organization's goalie development coach at the time, with having "a big influence on drafting Matt from what he saw." Murray played two more seasons with Sault Ste. Marie before turning pro and Penguins management debated whether it was better for him to begin the 2014-15 season in the AHL or in the ECHL with Wheeling.

With Jeff Zaktoff in line to be the No. 1 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the concern was Murray might not get enough playing time there.

Video: See what Murray has to say to the media

"What happened after the fact was Matt Murray, we couldn't send him down," Fitzgerald said. "His play was too good. Then, what he did from that period on was incredible. To be not only rookie of the year, goaltender of the year, first-team all-star, the only thing he didn't accomplish was the MVP and he was a finalist."

Zatkoff, 28, ended up having a front-row seat for much of it as Murray went 25-10-3 with a 1.58 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and an AHL rookie record 12 shutouts last season. Murray also set an AHL record with a shutout streak of 304 minutes and 11 minutes that included four consecutive shutouts.

"That was crazy," Zatkoff said. "That was remarkable what he was able to do. I've played a lot of years. I've never seen that done and I've played with some good goalies, Martin Jones and Jonathan Bernier for a few years and all those guys. It kind of was a perfect storm for him how it came together and he was hot. It was fun to watch."

Murray is proving this season that he wasn't a one-year wonder. After going 9-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA, .930 save percentage and one shutout in 13 regular season appearances with the Penguins, he's 7-3 with a 2.15 GAA, .929 save percentage and one shutout in the playoffs.

"He's got that maturity," Zatkoff said. "At the end of the day, it's a game he's comfortable playing and he's had success. Once you get a few games in, once the game starts, it's another hockey game and he's comfortable in that situation and he believes in himself and he has confidence and it's shown not only through the regular season games, but throughout the playoffs."

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