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Post-season saga of Rangers and Bulls to end in Memorial Cup semifinal

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KITCHENER, Ont. - Coaches and general managers in the Ontario Hockey League thought enough of Mike Murphy's unorthodox but effective style to vote him the league's goaltender of the year.

The 19-year-old from Inverary, Ont., isn't sure what the NHL thinks of his acrobatics in net. Murphy was draft eligible last year and it wasn't surprising there were no takers as he played only 14 games in 2006-07.

But he's not among Central Scouting's ranking of the top 30 goaltending prospects in North America this season.

The NHL tends to gravitate towards big goaltenders who play a stand-up, or butterfly, style. The slight five-foot-11, 161-pound Murphy doesn't fit that prototype.

"A lot of people like the bigger, butterfly goalies, but I think the new NHL, the top goaltenders aren't just butterfly guys," Murphy said Thursday. "(Marty) Turco, (Martin) Brodeur, (Tim) Thomas aren't textbook goaltender and they're really athletic and not six foot three. They're five foot 11.

"Hopefully I can convince a scout that I can be like them in a couple of years."

Murphy has made the Kitchener Rangers' life difficult for the last two weeks and he'll try to be a thorn in their side again Friday in the Memorial Cup semifinal (7 p.m. ET).

The winner takes on the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs in Sunday's championship game (4:30 p.m.).

The Rangers peppered Murphy with 108 shots in their last two games against Belleville, which were Game 7 on the Ontario Hockey League championship series and Wednesday's round-robin game of the Memorial Cup.

Murphy has stopped 102 of them in a 1-1 split.

His 54-save effort was the difference in Belleville's 4-3 overtime win Wednesday, which made the Bulls the home team with right of last line change Friday at Memorial Auditorium.

While Murphy has proven his ability to handle a heavy workload, Belleville head coach George Burnett says his team is playing with fire if their goaltender sees that many shots again Friday.

"He's faced a lot of shots and he's strong," Burnett said. "(But) we're walking a thin line if we give up 57 shots again tomorrow night. I think that would be foolish."

Burnett says Murphy has come a long way this season under the tutelage of goaltending coach Sebastien Farrese, who has put some structure into Murphy's style that was once only about athleticism and quickness.

"He was a fish out of water when he first came into the league,"

Burnett said. "He'd battle and battle, but after the second or third save he'd be out of position. Now he's there to make that next save."

Burnett says winger Jan Mursak, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick, is "very questionable" for Friday's semifinal after knee-on-knee contact with Rangers forward Nick Spaling in Wednesday's overtime.

The Rangers spent part of Thursday's practice shooting the puck with bodies in front of the net, which is what they'll have to do against Murphy to turn more of their multitude of shots into goals Friday.

"He's really flexible I've noticed," Rangers forward Mike Duco said. "He gets over to those pucks when you don't think he will."

Friday's semifinal will be Game 9 of the post-season between Kitchener and Belleville.

The Rangers needed seven games to get by the Bulls in the OHL championship series, even though Kitchener led the series 3-0 and was up 4-1 in Game 4.

Even Wednesday's game with little at stake went to overtime after Kitchener took a 3-0 lead after the first period.

The Bulls are beginning to feel like a sinus cold that just won't go away for the Rangers.

"It just feels like a continuation of the OHL championship. We won it and we're still playing them here," Rangers goaltender Josh Unice observed.

"Everybody was like 'Oh, you could see them nine times in two weeks' and everybody thought it was a joke, right? 'Nine times, let's get real."'

But Friday will finally spell the end of the Bulls-Rangers playoff saga as the loser's season will be over.

"Tonight, everyone is going to look at themselves in the mirror before they go to bed and realize tomorrow could be our last hockey game this year," Rangers defenceman Ben Shutron said.

"Everyone will have to come out and play with that desperation."

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