Rookie goaltender Matt Murray led the Pens onto the ice prior to Game 3 of their First Round series against the New York Rangers Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden with the weight of the team, and the world, on his shoulders.
An anxious Murray stood in his crease prior to his NHL playoff debut listening the National Anthem. His eyes were closed and he tried to focus.
“This is what you dream about, playing in the NHL playoffs,” Murray said. “It’s a moment I’ve been visualizing and dreaming about for a long time. A big focus was trying to not get too far ahead of myself. Be in the moment and not think about all the noise that’s going on around the game.
“I was trying not to put too much pressure on myself, have fun and enjoy the moment.”
Murray became the youngest goaltender in Pens’ history to start a playoff game at 21 years old in that contest. Murray also became the youngest goalie to win a playoff game in Pittsburgh history after turning aside 16 of 17 shots in his postseason debut.
“He was the best player the last game,” center Evgeni Malkin said. “He made saves on a couple good chances for the Rangers. He gave us a chance to win.”
Despite the butterflies flapping around inside of him, Murray appeared calm and poised throughout the contest.
“That was his first NHL playoff game,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I’m sure anytime that happens the butterflies are a part of it. If it didn’t, I’d be worried about you. It’s exciting hockey. I knew once the puck dropped he’d be fine, he’d settle into his game.
“He has a real calm demeanor in net. He really reads plays well. He was tracking the puck. When we needed him to make the timely saves for us, he did.”
Murray’s play was no surprise to his teammates. With No. 1 starter Marc-Andre Fleury out of the lineup for the final five games of the regular-season, the team turned to Murray to handle the net.
Murray, who was selected by the Pens in the third-round (83rd overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft held in Pittsburgh, went 4-0 with a 1.84 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and one shutout during that stretch. Although he missed the opening two games of the playoffs with an upper-body injury, he returned quickly into his old form.
“He’s been huge. He comes into the net like he’s been playing for 10 years,” defenseman Kris Letang marveled. “He’s got a lot of confidence.”
That confidence has been built through two stellar seasons. Murray was named American Hockey League Goaltender of the Year and Rookie of the Year in 2014-15 after leading the AHL in shutouts (12), save percentage (.941) and goals-against average (1.58). He set an AHL record shutout sequence of 304:11 minutes. Murray was twice named an AHL All-Star and was named to Team North America for the upcoming World Cup in September.
And now he can add an NHL playoff victory to his resume.
“I thought I stayed composed,” Murray said of his first postseason win. “It was a pretty big moment. I didn’t want the moment to get bigger than myself. I liked my composure out there. I like how I competed. If I do the same thing, it will put me in a good spot.”
His next chance to do the same thing will be in Game 4 on Thursday night at MSG. With Fleury still day-to-day with a concussion, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ net belongs to Matt Murray. Nerves and all.
“It’s the NHL playoffs. I get butterflies before every game,” Murray said. “It’s just that last game was more so than usual.
“That’s hockey. That’s the playoffs. You move on, whether you win or lose. You enjoy it for the night. I’m not thinking about it anymore.”