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Penguins

Penguins' Matt Murray: 'I feel a whole lot stronger'

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, May 10, 2018, 6:44 p.m.
The Penguins' Matt Murray eyes the puck during their game against the Capitals inside of PPG Paints Arena on May 1, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Matt Murray eyes the puck during their game against the Capitals inside of PPG Paints Arena on May 1, 2018.

At the end of his first two seasons in the NHL, Penguins goalie Matt Murray got a pretty nice parting gift.

A Stanley Cup ring.

When his third season in the league came to an unceremonious end this week with a second-round Game 6 loss to the Washington Capitals, he received something that might serve him just as well as his career progresses.

Professional growth.

“I went through a lot this year, but I think, in the end, I feel a whole lot stronger because of it,” Murray said.

The story of Murray's season traces back to a June night in Nashville, when Marc-Andre Fleury handed him the Stanley Cup as the Penguins celebrated their second straight championship. It was a symbolic moment. Everyone knew Fleury's tenure with the team was about to end, and the job of being the undisputed No. 1 goalie was all Murray's.

The new role taught him the value of consistency.

Let things slip for one week or one day or one shift, and you're losing to Vancouver on a Wednesday night in November.

That's how narrow the margin between winning and losing is in the NHL. Two years ago, in a six-game series against Washington in the second round, Murray gave up 15 goals. The Penguins won the series, and he was a hero. This year, against the same opponent in the same round in the same number of games, Murray gave up 16 goals. The Penguins lost the series, and Murray ate some of the blame.

“A lot of it is about little things — little, tiny things that you don't think are a big deal, but that's what kind of separates the great teams from the good ones,” Murray said. “Every year, I learn more and more about how to be a pro and handle the ins and outs of a long season, dealing with adversity, all that kind of stuff. This year was a huge learning year for me. I'm appreciative of that.”

The first bit of adversity that struck Murray this season was Philadelphia's Jakub Voracek barreling into his crease Nov. 27, which left him sidelined for six games with a lower-body injury. Once back in the lineup, he struggled, going 4-5-0 with a .896 save percentage.

In January, Murray suffered a loss that far transcended anything that can be measured by a goals-against average — the death of his father.

When he returned to the ice after a seven-game leave, he played some of the best hockey of his career, going 8-1-1 with a .923 save percentage for a one-month stretch.

Then, during a fateful Feb. 26 practice in Cranberry, Murray suffered a concussion when an Olli Maatta shot hit him in the head.

It proved to be a turning point.

When he returned after missing nine games, Murray went 4-3-1 with an .898 save percentage down the stretch.

He was a little sharper in the playoffs — 6-6 with a .908 save percentage — but his performance was not reminiscent of the previous postseason runs.

Murray doesn't believe in streaks. He thinks a goalie can only be hot or cold if he allows his past performance to affect his future endeavors. As such, he's loath to say the Maatta shot knocked him out of any groove he may or may not have been in.

Still, he admits the stops and starts made his third NHL season more trying than the previous two.

“But injuries are part of the game,” Murray said. “I may get injured again. It's a fast game out there, and stuff happens quick. Sometimes you get hurt. You need to learn how to deal with that as well and come back stronger.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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