Gorman: For Penguins, Murray brings pain
It's only one game, Douglas Murray reminds you, so temper the temptation to treat Game 1 of this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series as anything but.
Not that I'd recommend disagreeing with Murray, mind you.
I mean, did you see how the New York Islanders were bouncing off the 6-foot-3, 245-pound defenseman Wednesday night in the Penguins' 5-0 victory? Even Isles left winger Matt Martin called playing against Murray “a challenge” he accepts.
“A guy like that, as big and powerful as he is, can give you a run for your money,” Martin said. “Running into him is definitely different than running into some other guys.”
Murray plays defense with a physicality that Dan Bylsma admits was missing from the Penguins last year. Murray is as imposing a net-front presence as they have had since Ulf Samuelsson, a fellow Swede.
And the guy nicknamed Crankshaft could become as popular.
“It makes it even more fun, to get it appreciated. It might give me a little extra energy out there, but I'll do the same job no matter what,” Murray said. “I feed off of boos, too, at other arenas.”
There have been only cheers for Murray at Consol Energy Center, where most of his five hits were aimed at Martin, who started the infamous melee with the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum in February 2011 that outraged Mario Lemieux.
Murray also played well on the penalty kill and drew a 10-minute misconduct penalty for rushing to the defense of Jussi Jokinen after Marty Reasoner's open-ice hip check started a scuffle.
“When things get a little nasty in playoff hockey, he's built for that,” Matt Niskanen said of his defense partner. “The physicality is second to none. He wins I'd say 99 percent of any body-battle.”
It's only one game, but Murray already has shown why he is as valuable of an addition to these Penguins as Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jokinen. That's especially true now that defenseman Brooks Orpik, the team's biggest hitter, is out with an injury.
“He's a tough guy who's tough to get by,” Bylsma said. “He's strong in front of the net, clearing the net, and he's a physical presence even going back for pucks under pressure. He's a tough guy to hit and affect. He also was a factor physically, certainly a presence all over the rink, even when he's dumping pucks in. Guys are trying to hit him and he's a physical force in that regard, as well.
“That's something we wanted to add to our team, maybe I felt we missed last year with how our team played, and he has certainly added that.”
Murray's presence will give opponents second thoughts about camping in the crease and playing with the puck behind the net. Most of all, it will give them pause about delivering a dirty hit.
“It's a lot better when he's on your side,” said Morrow, who played against Murray while with the Dallas Stars. “He's such a big, heavy guy that even the little bumps that he gives you, they take their toll on you. You get pinned up against the boards with him, you're not getting off. He's just a beast out there, and it's good to have him on your team.”
Murray knows his role and appreciates it.
He learned through disappointment — the San Jose Sharks lost in the Western Conference final to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and Vancouver Canucks in '11 — how to perform in the playoffs.
So Murray brings the pain, in more ways than one.
That's why Murray warns that it's only one game, speaking from experience as someone who has played on talented teams and still came short of winning the Cup.
“I've been on a lot of good teams, really good teams, and you know they don't come around every year,” he said. “This is a special group of players. Just putting good players on the ice doesn't win you anything. You've got to go in with the same mentality every time: Attention to detail, playing physical, compete level — without those things it doesn't matter what talent you have on your team.”
With Murray, the emphasis is on playing physical. That's a talent the Penguins paid attention to, a detail that could be the difference.