Friday, April 27, 2018

Goalie Matt Murray was Penguins' Pinball Wizard

By Kevin Gorman
April 26, 2018

Matt Murray #30, Olli Maatta #3 and Chad Ruhwedel #2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins defend the net against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Capital One Arena on April 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Penguins defeated the Capitals 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The word on Matt Murray is to go high to the glove side, the supposed silver bullet to beat the Penguins' gifted goaltender.
The Washington Capitals took their shots, beating Murray to that side 17 seconds into the first period on an Evgeny Kuznestov breakaway and 28 seconds into the third on an Alex Ovechkin wrister from the left circle.
What the Capitals didn't know — and what they couldn't solve in their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Penguins on Thursday night at Capital One Arena — was Murray's secret weapon.
The inside of his blocker.
Murray was the Penguins' Pinball Wizard, twice blocking a shot from his left with his glove hand and reflexively deflecting the rebound to his right by twisting the wrist on his blocker hand.
The first came early in the second period, with the Penguins trailing 1-0. Murray blocked Brett Connolly from the top of the right circle and then Devante Smith-Pelly's rebound from the bottom of the left circle.
The second came with 2:30 remaining in the third, this time first blocking Pelly-Smith's redirect followed by Connolly's rebound to protect the lead.
"It was kind of like deja vu — it was the exact same play," Murray said. "It was through a screen, so I couldn't pick up the first shot, and I wasn't able to control the rebound and it went to the guy wide open backdoor and I just tried to get something on it.
"You just try to be fluid and react quickly. Those are tough through traffic. It's hard to get the rebound where you want it to go."
The Capitals learned that lesson the hard way. Through the first two periods, Murray had nothing on Braden Holtby.
The Capitals goalie stopped all 17 shots he faced through the first two periods, with a little help from the post and crossbar.
"He made some big saves, especially early on to keep us off the scoreboard," said Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin, whose shot from the slot Holtby stopped. "You can tell he's playing well. Those goals we scored, they're tough goals to save. We've got to continue to get traffic and throw as many pucks as we can at the net."
Murray and Holtby were putting on a clinic, and it took both teams' top lines to beat them.
Despite the Capitals' quick-strike goals, Murray kept the Evgeni Malkin-less Penguins in the game by keeping the Capitals out of the net.
"It's critical. It's hard to win at this time of the year if you don't get a timely save, and Matt gave it to us," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "He does it time and time again for us. I think that's why he's as accomplished as he is as a goalie."
That's why Murray is more accomplished, at least in the Stanley Cup playoffs, than Holtby, who won four consecutive games against Columbus.
There was some squirming about which Murray we would see after he recorded two shutouts and gave up only one goal in the first three victories over the Flyers but allowed 14 goals in the other three games.
Giving up a goal in the first 30 seconds of a period is such a Penguins thing to do. Stopping every shot for the other 59 minutes, 15 seconds was such a Murray thing.
"I thought he was locked in all night long," Sullivan said. "He made some big saves for us, especially when they were pressing down the stretch the last six or seven minutes of the third period.
"They were pressing really hard, and he made some big, timely saves for us. When you get those types of saves, it's easy to play with some confidence in front of him."
That's because Murray continues to be a calming presence for these Penguins, one who uses his long reach and short memory to win the biggest games.
"You've just got to worry about stopping the next one," Murray said. "It doesn't matter. When one goal goes in, you can't take it back. So you just worry about the next one."
The Penguins never worried about Murray. Jake Guentzel, who scored the game winner, cited Murray's maturity in how he handled the early adversity.
"He never gets down after a goal, especially in the first minute like that," Guentzel said. "You don't know what it can do. A lot of credit goes to him because he won that game for us."
Murray won Game 1 with both his glove and his blocker on a pair of spectacular saves that gave him a sense of deja vu and had me singing The Who.
Sure plays a mean pinball.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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