Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made the right call. Starting goaltender Matt Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final instead of the popular veteran Marc-Andre Fleury was the smart, non-emotional decision to make. Murray stopped 24 of 26 shots to lead Pittsburgh to a huge win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, tying the best of seven series at two games apiece.
The decision to switch netminders must have been excruciating for Sullivan who risked going down 3-1 and returning to the “Steel City” facing elimination with a divided locker room.
Murray would have started in net to defend last year’s title win had it not been for a pregame groin injury before the first playoff game that sidelined him indefinitely. In the 22-year-old Murray, the Penguins get a Stanley Cup winner who played 15 games, earned 2.08 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in last season’s playoffs.
In the 22-year-old Murray, the Penguins get a Stanley Cup winner who played 15 games, earned a 2.08 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in last season’s playoffs.
Fleury was good against the Columbus Blue Jackets in round one and nothing short of brilliant in round two dispatching of the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. Fleury has been impenetrable and is a big reason why the Penguins are still around. But, his playoff history is chocked full of inconsistency. Game 3 was an example of that. He gave up the first goal in the first minute when he was caught out of position and then let in three more over the next 13 minutes. Four goals on nine shots meant a hasty exit for Fleury from the game and probably the rest of the playoffs. The 32-year-old veteran has played 15 games in a short period of time and quite possibly is fatigued. He sure looked like it in his Game 3 meltdown.
Enter Murray who stopped 19 of twenty shots after replacing Fleury in Game 3 and in his first start since April 6, made some big stops early in Game 4 to boost the confidence of the Penguins who totally crumbled in Game 3. He also made save after save in the dying minutes of Game 4 when the Senators applied pressure with goalie Craig Anderson on the bench.
With the switch to Murray, the Penguins got their swagger back.
“It’s always a big boost when your coach has the confidence in you to play a game like this, especially after so long,” Murray said. “I really appreciate the confidence he put in me, and I just tried to put my best game on the ice and, honestly, pay him back for his decision and try to do my best to give the team a chance to win. And the team played unbelievably.”
In making the move, Sullivan made it clear to his team, that if Fleury could be benched after pitching shutouts in two of the last four games, anyone was at risk of being relegated.
Follow Bill on Twitter @LightningShout. You can also email him at: email@example.com.