The Sharks’ Patrick Marleau celebrates Melker Karlsson’s goal against the Penguins' Matt Murray in 1st period during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.(Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle)
PITTSBURGH -- Matt Murray has accomplished a lot during his brief NHL career and first trip through the Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s won a lot of games, he’s made spectacular saves and he still has the Penguins one win from winning the Stanley Cup.
But one thing he had yet to pull off was looking overwhelmed in any of those moments.
That changed as he took the ice for Game 5 with a chance to clinch hockey’s holy grail on home ice in front of an adoring bunch of 18,608.
Murray allowed Sharks defenseman Brent Burns to score on the first shot of the game just 1:04 in and saw the Sharks’ third shot beat him off the stick of Logan Couture just 1:49 later.
“Yeah, the adrenaline was definitely going,” Murray said. “I was a little bit jittery, a little bit nervous to start the game, but I really settled in after that and I thought I played really well the last two periods.”
He did settle in, but not before allowing the Sharks' Melker Karlsson to score the go-ahead goal at 14:47 of the period.
Couture set the rookie up in the high slot with a slick backhand pass, and the bang-bang nature of the play seemed to catch the rookie goaltender off guard. He chalked that one up to the fact that the puck was on edge and fluttering, but the sense was that he thought he should have had it.
“Yeah, he fanned on it,” he said. “It was rolling and he kind of got underneath it. If he gets good wood on it probably gives me a chance, but it kind of fluttered.”
Burns' goal was eerily similar to the overtime goal Murray allowed to Joonas Donskoi to end Game 3 and one scored by Capitals’ forward Justin Williams in the clinching game of the second round.
Murray didn’t want to dwell on that comparison, but was quick to credit the Sharks’ forwards for playing a solid game beneath the goal line.
“Yeah, they’re pretty good at playing beneath the goal line and making quick plays to the slot,” Murray said. “They had a couple plays like that in the third as well. It’s just something you have to be aware of. If they’re going to beat you with a good shot that’s one thing but you have to be aggressive and you have to be big and have an active stick and try to take away the pass that’s for sure.”
Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta didn’t want any part of blaming his goaltender for what happened early in the game. He put the onus on himself and his teammates, saying that they needed to better for a young player who has bailed them out all season long.
“We can’t leave Matt in that situation there,” Maatta said. “We weren’t good enough for him. He has been great for us the whole season, and I think everybody just knew we have to be better.”
That’s the thing about the Game 5 loss that stings the most. The Penguins were the better team for most of the last 55 minutes of regulation. They had a 46-22 edge in shots, had the better of the scoring opportunities and had the Sharks on their heels for long stretches of play.
All of that was backstopped by Murray, who settled in and started to look like the guy who is one win away from tying the NHL record for rookie playoff wins.
The team knows that they have to be better from the opening faceoff on Sunday night, and there's little to believe Murray won't be better. He displayed some nerves for the first time of his career and they got the best of him, but it made it all that much easier to root for him.
It showed that he’s human. He seems just like a regular rookie playing in the biggest games of his 22 years, and this experience will make him better. He knows what went wrong, and he’s ready to help his team build upon the positives of Game 6.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We were a confident group after that effort. We out-shot them. We out-chanced them. We outplayed them," he said. "We just need a better start. Our start wasn’t as good as it needed to be today, but as a team we bounced back really well. I really liked our resolve and our resilience and our mindset for the rest of the game.”