Kevin Gorman: Matt Murray's improbable sprawling save set tone for Penguins
Matt Murray was known for his perfect positioning and unflappable demeanor, not his spectacular saves or shutouts.
Yet the Penguins goaltender did both of the latter in the 7-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup first-round playoff series.
On a night of highlight goals, Murray made one of the biggest plays by stopping a shot against which he should've had no chance.
With the Penguins leading, 1-0, at the eight-minute mark of the first period, they committed a turnover in their own end.
When Flyers winger Matt Read passed it to center Jori Lehtera in the slot, Murray said he "tried to be aggressive" by moving to the middle of the net. Lehtera, however, passed it to a wide-open Scott Laughton, stationed at the right post.
The game was good as tied.
But Laughton fanned from point-blank range, giving Murray the split second he needed to react. The 6-foot-4 goalie stretched out to stop Laughton's second shot with the bottom of his glove, akin to a shoestring catch.
"That was obviously huge," said Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, who had a front-row view in the crease. "The game could have been different if that went in. But he's been doing that the last couple years for us, bailing us out. That was another one right there."
One that proved to be the turning point for the Penguins, long before Evgeni Malkin scored on a breathtaking backhander or Sidney Crosby had half the arena tossing their hats on the ice.
"It gives your team a big lift," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "You get a timely save like that at a key time like that, it gives the bench a big lift.
"We could hear the chatter on the bench when Matt made that save for us. That's the type of impact it has on both the team but also the game."
Soon enough, this one got out of hand. Less than two minutes after Murray's spectacular save, Carl Hagelin gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead at 10:07, which quickly became 3-0 on Malkin's beautiful backhander.
"That could've changed the momentum of the game," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Murray's stop. "For sure, it was a big play. That was one I just thought 'Laughts' looked a little bit tight on that.
"Maybe that was something we just had to go through in this hockey game. We had our looks. We had our opportunities. We had some good ones he made good saves on. We also missed the net on a few too many of the opportunities that we had."
Murray made 24 saves to record his third consecutive postseason shutout, dating to Games 5 and 6 against Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final last season. Murray hasn't allowed a playoff goal in a span of 206 minutes and 26 seconds, dating to Game 4 of the Cup Final.
Not bad for a goalie who recorded one shutout in the regular season.
Murray is 14-2 in home playoff games, including six consecutive, which is now the most in the NHL.
The only worry with Murray was whether he would survive pre-game warmups after tearing his hamstring before Game 1 against Columbus last year.
Murray isn't worrying about last season, let alone last night. His only concern is with winning a third consecutive Cup championship, perfect positioning for his unflappable demeanor.
"Every game is a chance to reset," Murray said. "It doesn't matter what's happened in the past. We take that mindset into every game.
"A win's a win. We'll take it, obviously. In the playoffs, it doesn't matter if you win 7-0 or 1-0 in overtime, it resets immediately after that. We'll take the win and move on."
Here's the problem for the Penguins' playoff opponents: Murray resets, but they keep coming away with nothing.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.