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Murray down, but Penguins not out

Look for Pittsburgh to find way to win despite No. 1 goalie being out week to week with lower-body injury

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The Pittsburgh Penguins' chances of winning the Stanley Cup three seasons in a row did not go down with goaltender Matt Murray. 

Murray is week to week with a lower-body injury, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Tuesday, after Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek fell on the rush, crashed into him and pinned his right leg against a goal post in the second period of a 5-4 overtime victory at PPG Paints Arena on Monday.

The Penguins can't turn to Marc-Andre Fleury anymore; they lost him to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21. They must turn to Tristan Jarry, who has five games of NHL experience, as they sit in the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Jarry's backup? Casey Desmith, who has one game of NHL experience.

"Pittsburgh's always found a way when guys have gone down," said defenseman Trevor Daley, who won the Cup with the Penguins the past two seasons before signing with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent July 1. "It wouldn't surprise me if they found a way to get through it."

Video: PHI@PIT: Murray exits after collision with Voracek

Would it surprise anyone?

Fleury sustained a concussion late in the 2015-16 season, creating an opportunity. Murray had 13 games of NHL experience entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He ended up as the starter on a Cup run.

Murray sustained an injury in warmup for the opening game of the 2017 playoffs, creating an opportunity. Fleury carried the Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the second round against the Washington Capitals, going 8-4 with a .927 save percentage. Murray took over during the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators and played in the Final against the Nashville Predators.

The Penguins would have loved to have kept Murray and Fleury together to go for a third championship, but it wasn't realistic. They were lucky to keep them together for a second championship. The NHL has a salary cap. Each goaltender wants to be a starter.

Murray's backup was going to be an issue this season.

The Penguins signed veteran Antti Niemi to a one-year, $700,000 contract July 1. It was a low-risk, potentially high-reward move, considering Niemi won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and was a Vezina Trophy finalist with the San Jose Sharks in 2013. 

He went 0-3-0 with a 7.50 goals-against average and .797 save percentage, and was waived Oct. 23.

At least the Penguins cut bait quickly, and at least they still had Jarry. He was a second-round pick (No. 44) in the 2013 NHL Draft; Murray was a third-round pick (No. 83) in 2012. With Murray in the NHL, Jarry took over for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League last season and went 28-15-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.

Video: PHI@PIT: Jarry robs Simmonds with pad save

Who knows what he could become?

This creates an opportunity. Jarry can show what he can do, as Murray once had the chance to, starting against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, MSG-B, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV). The Penguins can evaluate him. 

"You have to challenge yourself to pick up your speed," Jarry said. "The game pace is a little different from being in the American Hockey League to the NHL."

Better to do that now.

Best case, Jarry proves he's a capable backup and gains experience that will help him if needed in the playoffs. If he doesn't, the Penguins will have a chance to make another move before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26.

What matters most is that the Penguins make the playoffs and that Murray is healthy and sharp when they begin. 

That is still quite possible.

The Penguins have lost a lot since last season: Daley, Fleury, defenseman Ron Hainsey and forwards Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz and Scott Wilson. Now Murray is injured. This is a stark reminder that so much will have to go right for them to win the Cup again, but so little will have go wrong for them not to.

Yet defenseman Kris Letang is back from injury. They have added defenseman Matt Hunwick and forwards Ryan Reaves and Riley Sheahan. They still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and company.

Video: PIT@WSH: Letang backhands home PPG from in front

"You still have a pretty good group in front of you," Daley said with a chuckle.

They still have general manager Jim Rutherford, and they still have time.

"We're going to do our best in front of them to help them out, but those [goaltenders] can certainly hold their own," Crosby said. "We have to continue to find ways to win games." Correspondent Wes Crosby contributed to this report.

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