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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins should stick with Matt Murray in Game 5

Pittsburgh goaltender deserves to get call against Predators in Stanley Cup Final

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has not announced whether Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray will start against the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Do the goaltenders know who it will be?

"Even if I did," Murray said after practice Wednesday with a big grin, "I wouldn't tell you."

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coveragePhil Kessel needs to 'make 'em count' for Penguins in Game 5]

 

Fair enough. The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2. Each team is looking for an edge, no matter how slight, entering PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

But there is little reason to believe Sullivan will go back to Fleury after Murray allowed eight goals on 58 shots the past two games, each a loss, and little reason to believe he should.

Sullivan is in a tough spot or a great spot, depending on your perspective. He has two good goaltenders and one net.

Fleury started when the Penguins won the Cup in 2009. Murray started when the Penguins won the Cup last year. Fleury carried the Penguins through the first two rounds of the playoffs this year; he was their most valuable player. After he allowed four goals on nine shots in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators, Murray relieved him.

They have virtually identical save percentages. Fleury's is .924. Murray's is .925.

The argument for Fleury goes like this: He didn't deserve to lose the net in the first place. Not only was he the Penguins MVP at the midpoint, he was coming off a shutout, his second in three games, when he got pulled. Didn't he deserve the chance to bounce back?

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Murray makes consecutive strong saves

TSN analyst and former NHL goaltender Martin Biron pointed out that Fleury had better numbers against Ottawa when pulled than Murray has now against Nashville. Fleury had a 2.60 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in two-plus games. Murray has a 3.00 goals-against average and .902 save percentage in four games.

But here's the thing: Murray is Sullivan's guy. He played for Sullivan with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League before Sullivan took over the Penguins last season. He came up and took over the net for Sullivan when Fleury was injured last season. He won the Cup for Sullivan last year.

The reason Fleury played the first two rounds and the start of the conference final wasn't because he had retaken the job from Murray. It was because Murray had sustained a lower-body injury in warmups before Game 1.

Murray felt well enough to back up Fleury in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals; Fleury had a 29-save shutout in a 2-0 victory. Sullivan stuck with Fleury into the conference final, but when Fleury faltered, he went back to the goaltender he felt all along was his No. 1.

It doesn't come down to what a goaltender deserves. It comes down to which goaltender the coach thinks give his team the best chance to win. Each is subjective.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Murray stones Neal twice with his pad

Considering the baseline expectation, it should take more for Sullivan to make a change now than it did then. Though Sullivan didn't commit to sticking with Murray on Tuesday, he said he didn't think goaltending was the reason the Penguins lost Games 3 and 4.

Murray sounded confident Wednesday. He didn't like that he allowed five goals on 33 shots in Game 3, a 5-1 loss.

"Obviously not great," he said.

He didn't like that he allowed three goals on 25 shots in Game 4, a 4-1 loss, either. He especially didn't like the goal he gave up to Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson that made it 3-1 at 13:08 of the second period. 

"I think if I make a save on that breakaway," he said, "it's a different game."

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Murray shuts down Forsberg in close

But we tend to judge goaltenders by goals they allow and notable saves they make. They tend to judge themselves -- and their coaches tend to judge them -- on the overall process, even at this time of year, because it's the process that tends to lead to the results.

"It's probably human nature to say, 'You let in five goals, you probably didn't play so well,'" Murray said. "But [I] honestly felt really sharp [in Game 3]. I thought my movements were really good that game. I was finding pucks through traffic pretty well for the most part. Might be going against human nature to do that, so that's what makes it difficult at times. But again, that's a perfect example right there."

Murray felt he played pretty well in Game 4, too. 

What about his glove? Is that a weakness he has been working on?

If it were, would he tell us?

"Not really, to be honest," Murray said. "I mean, I work on everything. I work on my entire game. If they want to shoot glove, then I say, 'Go ahead. Shoot glove.' "

Sounds like a challenge for Game 5.

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