Penguins goalie Matt Murray now knows what it's like to lose a playoff series
Matt Murray draped a towel around his neck and bowed his head, the bill of a baseball cap shielding most of a blank expression.
Here was a 23-year-old goaltender who had met a foe he didn't like or understand, but unlike the Washington Capitals, this opponent didn't carry a stick or shoot a puck.
But it was something Murray had never handled in his three seasons in the NHL: Defeat in a playoff series.
It was moments after the Capitals' 2-1 overtime victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals that secured a four-games-to-two triumph over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
He's been the Penguins No. 1 goaltender through three playoff runs, two full seasons and two Stanley Cup championships, but defeat hit him harder than any puck he's faced in his NHL career.
He handled most of what the Capitals threw at him, stopping 28 of 30 shots over the course of 65 minutes, 27 seconds of nerve-shaking hockey. But he couldn't stop a breakaway game-winner by Evgeny Kuznetsov 5:27 into overtime or a goal by Alex Chiasson in the second period.
"It's an empty feeling," Murray said, lifting his head and turning briefly toward the reporter who asked the question. "That's the best way I can describe it, to be honest."
Murray, whose season was sadly tainted earlier this year by the death of his father and a concussion, would have been a hero on another night if the Penguins were able to back him up with offense. But the Capitals allowed few clean looks at their goaltender, Braden Holtby, who faced only 22 shots on goal.
"They were just the better team," Murray said. "I thought they played a heckuva game tonight. It didn't feel like we had many chances at all.
"They are a great team, and they showed it. They deserved to win tonight."
Murray gave credit to the Capitals' top line of Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, who assisted on the winner, and Chandler Stephenson. Ovechkin led all scorers with five shots on goal. Kuznetsov added two more.
The deciding goal was a breakaway with Murray staring one-on-one at Kuznetsov, who scored a career-high 27 goals in the regular season and has added six in the postseason.
"That's a pretty good line," Murray said. "One of the best probably in the league. They showed why they're a dangerous group.
"I think we just gave them too many chances. They're going to get some when they have good looks like that."
Coach Mike Sullivan, who's been with Murray since their days in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and picked him over Marc-Andre Fleury to backstop the Penguins, praised Murray for more than his skills in the goal crease.
"He's really a competitor," Sullivan said. "He's a really good person who loves this team and he battles.
"I think that's the highest compliment you can give a player and I think Matt is one of those guys.
"He made some big saves. He gave us a chance to win. That's all you can ask."
After two consecutive Stanley Cup championships, there were several players in the Penguins' locker room who didn't know defeat in the postseason.
"I know we'll learn from this," Sullivan said, "and we all will become better people and better players as a result."
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.