Friday, June 10, 2016

In battle of goalies, Murray must emerge

June 10, 2016

San Jose Sharks' Joe Thronton is stopped by Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Murray in 2nd period during Game 5 of  the Stanley Cup Final at Consul Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA, on Thursday, June 9, 2016. Photo: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle
San Jose Sharks' Joe Thronton is stopped by Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Murray in 2nd period during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consul Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA, on Thursday, June 9, 2016. (Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle)

The parade should have happened by now.
But that was true before what could have been the greatest day for hockey in Pittsburgh.
As the Penguins wait another couple of days to win the Stanley Cup they already have earned by their dominance, another truth has emerged from this continuing Final: Matt Murray isn't playing like Ken Dryden anymore.
Martin Jones apparently is channeling Patrick Roy.
If the Cup is going to be claimed by the club with the better goalie, the San Jose Sharks are swimming toward a Bay Area bash with Lord Stanley's chalice. At the very least, they rewarded their famously feverish fans with a Game 6 at home Sunday night.
The guess here is the Cup comes out then, and then returns to Pittsburgh with the Penguins on a cross-country flight Monday morning.
If not ... well, let's not go there just yet.
Rather, let's go to a lesson we should have learned by now: This Cup is “the toughest trophy to win in sports.” Somewhere along the many pursuits of it, somebody offered that famous line.
Probably because somebody saw a goalie steal victory from a deserving opponent, just as Jones did for the Sharks on Thursday night. Too many of his 44 saves were sensational in a 4-2 victory.
“It's tough to say,” captain Sidney Crosby said as to whether Jones' performance was the best by a goalie against his Penguins during the postseason.
Sure, that makes sense. After all, Jones is at three great games and counting in the Final. He has stopped at least 38 shots in each of those contests, and perhaps it's telling that the Sharks have come away with two victories.
Still, they wouldn't have if Jones' counterpart had been better.
That is a harsh assessment of Murray, a rookie who turned 22 during a postseason run nobody would have predicted three months ago. But in those three months, Murray often defied logic (and skeptics) and occasionally was the Penguins' best player.
That's been a while, though.
Since his dumbfounding 47-save performance in a Game 3 that turned Round 2 in the Penguins' favor, Murray's play has tailed off considerably.
This latest loss marked his sixth game with at least three goals allowed, dating to that dazzling win against the Capitals at home. Murray has made fewer than 25 saves in four of those contests, including Game 5 of the Final.
It could be that Game 5 was his worst game in a brief-but-successful NHL career. Certainly it was his most important.
Of course, that will change come Sunday night.
However, if Murray again is flat, coach Mike Sullivan better at least consider turning the remainder of Game 6 over to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Did Sullivan considered pulling Murray after the Sharks' third goal (on five shots) only 14 minutes and 47 seconds into Game 5?
“No,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan also said he thought Murray “settled down” after the second of two weak goals he allowed. But it's more like the Penguins playing keep-away with the puck settled a dizzying (and rare) back-and-forth start to a Cup Final game.
At this point, there is no use in anybody questioning Sullivan when it comes to anything about Murray. The rookie is this coach's goalie, and this coach is sticking with the rookie.
I don't see coach or rookie losing both of the next two games. And I don't need to be convinced that Jones will make eliminating the Sharks difficult. With a .927 save percentage in the Final, Jones is making like Roy did three times and threatening to be the playoff MVP.
At least the Penguins are forcing the other goalie to go like an all-time great.
“Like I said, I don't really feel like they had a ton of momentum,” Crosby said of Game 5.
Yeah, but that also was true in Game 3. Then Murray let Joel Ward blow a shot by him. The Sharks essentially saved their season that night in their tank.
They can completely capsize this Final on Sunday night.
You can expect the Penguins to be very good. The same can be expected of Jones.
Well, rookie, what do you got?
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.

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