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Fleury or Murray?

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Fleury or Murray?

That's the question facing the Pens' coaching staff heading into Friday's Game 4 in Ottawa against the Senators in the Eastern Conference Final. 

Will the Pens, who trail 2-1 in the series, start goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray. The answer will have to wait until Friday.

"We'll announce that in the morning," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "It's always a hard decision, but it's a good, hard decision because we have two really good goalies. It's never an easy decision. It never has been all year long for us.

"That's a decision that we never take lightly."

The Pens' normal protocol is to announce the starting goalie in the morning of a game day. That doesn't necessarily mean that the decision has or hasn't been made. But if the coaching staff has already decided, they haven't told the two netminders.

"No, I don't know yet," Fleury said. "(Sullivan) hasn't spoken about it."

"Even if I had (been told) I wouldn't tell (the media)," Murray said with a smile.

Murray was the team's projected starter heading into the postseason, but a lower-body injury suffered in warmups prior to Game 1 of the First Round against Columbus sidelined him for three weeks.

Fleury stepped in and has been the team's best player throughout the playoffs. The Pens defeated the Blue Jackets in five games and topped the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in seven.

General manager Jim Rutherford noted Fleury's performance as the reason Pittsburgh defeated the Capitals: "If it wasn't for our goaltender we wouldn't have won the series."

But Fleury surrendered four goals on nine shots in the first 13 minutes of Game 3 against Ottawa and was pulled in favor of Murray, who stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced in the relief effort.

So the same question that the team has faced since late last season has reemerged: Fleury or Murray?

Both goalies said they will accept whatever the coaches decide and are preparing as if they will start.

"I'm really enjoying this playoff run. It's not going to go 16 games in a row perfectly," Fleury said. "I put that (Game 3 loss) behind me already and I'll be ready to go."

"I have no expectations. Either way I have to be ready," Murray said. "That's how I look at it. I'll be ready to go either way, whatever coach's decision is. I'm not really hoping one way or the other. It's out of my control so I don't think too much about it."

The story between Fleury and Murray has been well documented. Fleury was the Pens' franchise goaltender since he was drafted in 2003 first overall. He owns the franchise record for games played, wins, playoff games, playoff wins and playoff shutouts.

But a concussion in late March of last season knocked Fleury out of the lineup. Murray, who was the reigning American Hockey League goaltender of the year, stepped in. From there Murray led the Pens to the 2016 Stanley Cup championship while etching his name in the NHL record books.

The Pens used both goaltenders during the 2016-17 campaign with Murray getting the bulk of the workload. But the current postseason is a reverse of last year. Instead of Fleury suffering an injury and Murray taking the reigns as played out last season, this time it was Murray that was hurt and Fleury rode in on his white horse to save the day.

Either way, the Pens can't go wrong with whatever they decide. They have two Stanley Cup-winning, first-class goaltenders on the roster.

"I've said all along that we have two great goalies," Sullivan said. "These guys have both helped us win games. They're terrific goalies. We're fortunate that we have these guys as part of our team. We think that's one of strengths of our group."

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