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Penguins Turn Back To Matt Murray For Game 6

Penguins Turn Back To Matt Murray For Game 6

The Pittsburgh Penguins are going back to 21-year-old rookie Matt Murray with the season on the line against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan wasted little time announcing Murray as his starter for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

“The reason, just like we make all of our lineup decisions, is that we try to put players on the ice that we think try to give us the best chance to win,” Sullivan told reporters in Tampa Bay.

Sullivan is already being second-guessed for starting Fleury in Game 5 on Sunday, a 4-3 overtime loss in which the veteran made 21 saves in his first start since suffering a concussion on March 31. Some have suggested Murray, who was pulled after giving up for game in Game 4 but still has a .923 save percentage in the playoffs, deserved to start Game 5 at home based on his play to date. Despite backstopping the Penguins past the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, however, the reality is there have been signs Murray’s play has slipped since Game 6 of the Second Round against the Capitals, and his save percentage in four games against Tampa Bay team more adept at creating dynamic offensive chances was .889.

So Sullivan, in discussion with goalie coach Mike Bales, decided to make the move to Fleury for Game 5 despite the fact he’d faced just seven shots over almost two months. Maybe they’d seen enough in practice to believe Fleury was ready to resume the play that arguably made him the Penguins regular season MVP and worthy of Vezina Trophy nomination. Instead they got too many signs of the “old Fleury” does playoffs past, overplaying angles and chasing the play more like he did before Bales arrived in 2013.

So back to Murray they go.

“It’s a tough situation,” Sullivan said. “But it is what it is. We have to make the best decision and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Maybe a couple days off will be enough to reset the tracking and movement issues that crept into his game. Maybe he can beat the Lightning despite those issues (he’d done it twice already and was probably only truly at fault for the last of the four goals he surrendered in Game 4). Or maybe the downward trend continues, and Sullivan is second-guessed for not giving Fleury a chance to show he’d shaken off whatever rust led him to return to some of the positional decisions and movement patterns they’ve been trying to coach out of his game for three years. If so, some will almost certainly argue Fleury, who was the Stanley Cup in 2009, “deserved” another start in Game 6.

At this stage, though, “deserve” probably has little to do with it.  As Sullivan said, the Penguins made choices based on who gave them “the best chance to win.”

Maybe, with Murray’s play slipping and Fleury going so long between starts, neither choice was a great one.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.