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Sullivan will decide Penguins goaltender Sunday

Murray has played 13 straight, but Fleury could see first start of playoffs in Game 5 against Lightning

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

TAMPA -- Murray or Fleury?

That was the question Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and his staff were debating Saturday as they prepared for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

With the best-of-7 series tied 2-2, Sullivan said Saturday he will wait until Sunday to decide whether to stick with Matt Murray, the 21-year-old rookie who has gotten the Penguins within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final, or switch to Marc-Andre Fleury, the 31-year-old veteran who was the No. 1 all season when healthy and won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

Murray has been the Penguins starting goaltender since returning from an upper-body injury for Game 3 of the first round against the New York Rangers. Fleury, who had been sidelined with a concussion, saw his first game action since March 31 in Game 4 on Friday when he replaced Murray to begin the third period of a 4-3 loss to the Lightning.

All three goaltenders on the Penguins roster -- Murray, Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff -- have played during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a berth in the Cup Final hanging in the balance, picking the one who will start Sunday might be Sullivan's most important decision since being named Penguins coach on Dec. 12.

"I've said all along we feel like we have real quality goaltenders," Sullivan said. "We've got three guys that have helped us win all year. Marc's a real good goalie. Matt's played extremely well for us, making timely saves. He did it again [Friday]. So, it's a nice problem to have when you have that quality of goaltenders to choose from."

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm4: Fleury stones Namestnikov on doorstep

Murray, who will turn 22 on May 25, left the game Friday with the Penguins trailing 4-0 after allowing four goals on 30 shots, but Sullivan said the decision to replace him was not based on his play.

"We thought Matt made some big saves," Sullivan said. "The goals that they scored, they were high-quality chances. They would have been tough saves. So, it's an opportunity to get Marc some game action. Sometimes when you make that type of a decision as a coach, it has an impact on the group in front of the goaltender. I thought we had a strong push in the third period, but when you're in a four-goal deficit, it's tough to crawl back into that one."

In 58 regular-season appearances, Fleury went 35-17-6 with a 2.29 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and five shutouts. He has been Murray's backup since Game 3 of the second round against the Washington Capitals.

Sullivan previously acknowledged Fleury's long break between games was an impediment to throwing him into the middle of a playoff series. In that way, getting him in for the third period Friday helped. Fleury stopped all seven shots he faced, including a pad save on Vladislav Namestnikov on a partial breakaway 1:38 into the third period.

"Marc's been a big part of this team all year," Sullivan said. "He's really helped this team get to the position that it's at with the way he's played all season. The timing of his injury down the stretch was unfortunate. It's not a perfect circumstance, but that's the nature of the business we're in and we just try to make the best decisions and make the most of the situation that we're in."

The Penguins were sloppy and undisciplined for much of the first two periods in Game 4 before making a strong push in the third that fell short.

"It wasn't a good game for us," center Matt Cullen said. "We're not happy how things went. I think during the playoffs we've been a really resilient group. We've responded to all different kinds of adversities. I expect it to be the same."

It also appears likely the Penguins will have to play Sunday without defenseman Trevor Daley. Daley left Amalie Arena on crutches Friday after appearing to injure his left leg in a second-period collision with Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan. Sullivan said Daley, who solidified the Penguins' top four on defense after being acquired in a Dec. 14 trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, would be re-evaluated after the team returned to Pittsburgh Saturday.

Among the positives for the Penguins is two of the possible three remaining games are scheduled to be played at Consol Energy Center, where they are 6-2 in the playoffs.

"That's why we wanted to have a really good regular season so we could put ourselves in a position to have home ice throughout the playoffs," defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. "We feel that benefits us, but like I said, if we don't bring our best game, that won't matter much."

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