NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Matt Murray went from being sidelined by an injury in opening the playoffs to posting back-to-back shutouts in leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
“My heart rate is still pretty high from the game. It hasn’t stopped since,” Murray said following a 27-save performance in a
win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday night. “I’m trying to relax a bit here. I think it will start to sink in the next few days.”
Murray – still considered a rookie, no less, despite winning his second title – will have much to digest.
Coming off a 24-save performance in a 6-0 win in Game 5 on Thursday, the 23-year-old closed the Final with a shutout string that spanned 146 minutes and 52 seconds. It’s a stretch that began after he gave up a second-period goal to Viktor Arvidsson in a 4-1 loss in Game 4.
Murray became the first rookie goalie to post two shutouts in the Cup Final since the NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967-68. And the only rookies to ever post a shutout in the final series were Patrick Roy, in 1986, and Cam Ward, in 2006, with one apiece.
A little good fortune also benefited Murray, particularly on Sunday night when Nashville was counting on goalie Pekka Rinne to be his usual dominating self at home. The Predators were 9-1 this postseason coming into Game 6 and Rinne was outstanding for 58 minutes.
“I don’t want to sound selfish but I was treating this as a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Rinne, who struggled in Pittsburgh. “You never know when you’re going to get another opportunity.”
The Predators hit two goal posts – including Colton Sissons rifling a shot from the high slot off the right post that had Murray beat with 10:37 remaining in regulation. Sissons also had a goal negated 1:07 into the second period, when referee Keith Pollock blew the play dead with the puck lying in the crease and after it trickled through Murray’s left arm.
The game wasn’t decided until the final minutes when Patric Hornqvist scored the go-ahead goal with 95 seconds left and Carl Hagelin scored into an empty net.
“We were getting chances, just nothing was going in for us,” Murray said. “And then we got a good bounce there at the end. Honestly, you make your own luck, especially in a scenario like this.”
Murray would not have had the opportunity to see action had veteran Marc-Andre Fleury not been pulled after allowing four goals on nine shots in
of the Eastern Conference finals.
Murray stepped in and never relinquished the job he lost after sustaining a lower body injury during warmups before their playoff-opener against Columbus on April 12. He finished with a 7-3 record and allowed 19 goals in 11 games.
“Last year was pretty special, being my first run,” said Murray a late-season call-up, who went 15-6 in the playoffs in replacing Fleury last year. “Went through some injuries this year and some adversity. I think I was able to come back not only quicker but stronger than before.”
There’s a chance Murray will be replacing the 32-year-old Fleury on a full-time basis after this season. The Penguins are expected to expose Fleury in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft later this month.
A similar passing of the torch took place on the ice during the Cup celebration. After Fleury had his opportunity to carry the trophy, he handed it off to Murray.
“I had to say that’s one of the most special moments in my life,” said Murray, who called Fleury a “special person” and mentor.
“My rank is way down at the bottom,” Murray said, humbly. “And I got it ahead of some of the older guys. And that’s because (Fleury) handed it to me.”
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