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Murray focused on his mindset entering playoffs

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Penguins coaching staff talks a lot with their players about controlling the controllables and staying in the moment. About making sure they have a certain resilience about them, a certain mental toughness that ensures they're able to respond to the emotional highs and lows that the game inevitably presents.

Arguably no one embodies that mindset more than goaltender Matt Murray. And it's a mindset that has served him well at this time of year as the 24-year-old enters his fourth NHL postseason. 

"I feel a little bit older, a little bit more experienced, I guess, which is good," he said when thinking back to his playoff debut in 2016. "But I honestly tried to approach that first game the same way too. It was really difficult and I probably didn't do a very good job because I was super nervous. 

"But I was still looking for the same mindset, and that's just to go out there and play hockey. Not worry about anything else. Don't worry about the result, don't worry about anything out of my control, just go play. I think that's all you can do out there."

Not only does Murray feel a little bit older and a little bit more experienced - there's a little bit more motivation considering that this is the first time in a long time that the Penguins aren't the defending champions to start the season. That being said, his focus is locked in on Game 1 of their First Round matchup against the New York Islanders on Wednesday at Nassau Coliseum.

"I think we know we have a good team and we have a great opportunity ahead of us," he said. "But we just look at one game at a time. We're just trying to prepare ourselves for Game 1."

And once the puck drops for that game, his focus is on stopping the next shot. When asked if that mentality is harder to keep in the playoffs, Murray said that it might be - but that's what makes it so powerful.

"If you can approach every single shot, every single read, every single game the same way, it's just going to give you that base and that sort of consistency that you're looking for," he explained. "Then you kind of compete from there. it might be harder, but you just have to try a little bit harder.

"Nothing physically changes about any part of the game, you know? So it's just about doing the little things and trying to focus on your game and not really worrying about anything else out of your control. That's kind of how I try to approach every single game that I play."

After Murray experienced postseason defeat for the first time last spring after the Washington Capitals eliminated the Penguins in the Second Round, he made honest assessments about his game. He realized that it wasn't where it needed to be, wanted to become a better overall netminder in every aspect.

After a rough stretch in November followed by a month-long injury absence, Murray did just that - returning to win 25 of his last 39 games. He played his best hockey during the stretch run, backstopping the Penguins into the playoffs by handling the overwhelming majority of starts to close out the season. 

Murray started 20 of Pittsburgh's final 21 games, which included a career-high stretch of 11-straight starts between March 16-April 6. He showed that he was capable of not only handling, but thriving under a big workload, and feels sharp and confident heading into Round One.

"It's been good to play a lot, I think," he said. "I knew I was capable of it and just tried to work hard on my fitness and a big credit to the strength guys. Playing back-to-backs and stuff like that, they give you everything you need to feel good. I honestly didn't even know I played that many games. It just is what it is. I just try to prepare myself for one game at a time. I hate to keep saying the same thing, but it's really all I can tell you."

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