By Mark Madden
April 8, 2018
Goaltender Matt Murray, 23, is playing in his fourth full season of pro hockey and second full NHL campaign. His resume includes:
*Two Stanley Cups.
*A playoff record of 22-9.
*A playoff goals-against average of 1.95 and save percentage of .928.
*Four shutouts in the post-season, including each of the last two games of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
*One goal allowed between two Cup-clinching victories.
So when Murray talks about how to handle playoff pressure, it should be taken as gospel.
"Pressure is a funny thing," Murray said. "Everybody handles pressure differently. I don't see much of a difference game in, game out, or year in, year out. Each game - each shot, honestly - is a chance to reset, and to try to get better, and start over.
"If you put too much pressure on yourself, you start to tense up and start to maybe try a little bit too hard. That's obviously not going to help."
The solution: Have fun.
"Trust your teammates, trust yourself and just have fun out there," Murray said. "It's an amazing opportunity that we have in front of us. Soak it in, feel like a kid out there, and have fun."
Despite his youth, Murray has the playoffs clocked. He is the backbone of the Penguins' attempt to make history by winning a third straight Stanley Cup.
Murray's biggest challenge in the post-season figures to be dealing with opposition bodies crowding the blue paint.
"The game tends to simplify this time of year," Murray said. "Teams start to look for more point shots - screens and tips, going hard to the net. To be successful this time of year, you really need to compete through the traffic and work on your positioning.
"The puck may have to hit you sometimes if you can't pick it up. That's something I need to keep trending in the right direction."
At 6-foot-4, Murray has a few options when he fights through screens.
"It's a bit of a skill," Murray said. "Sometimes, as a taller guy, you may be able to look over top of the screen. Other times, you may have to get lower and look through a guy's legs, or around a guy. It all depends on the play, which way the puck's moving, and which way the bodies are moving.
"There's not really a formula to it. You have to be fluid, you have to be loose, and you have to read the play and do what you can to find the puck."
Goaltending coach Mike Buckley is Murray's closest ally. Buckley has worked with Murray dating back to Murray's pro debut with the Penguins' Wilkes-Barre/Scranton farm club in 2014.
"We have a really good relationship," Murray said of Buckley. "He knows what makes me tick, and I trust him 100 percent. He's the one guy I listen to on everything.
"This time of year and at this point in my career, it's not about reinventing my game. It's about tweaking little things here and there. At this point, a lot is mental more than physical."
Murray finished the regular season with a 27-16-3 record to go with a goals-against of 2.92 and a save percentage of .907.
Murray missed almost a month after being concussed in late February, but got back into a groove by playing eight games in late March and early April.
"I feel good," Murray said. "It's not easy missing that much time, especially toward the end of the season. But I feel good about my game right now. I feel like I've been better and better in the games that I've played. So it's moving in the right direction."
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).