Penguins’ Matt Murray puts late-game woes behind him with strong showing in Dallas
DALLAS – While he was stuck in a stretch where he gave up the tying goal in the final five minutes of regulation four times in 13 games, it seemed tone deaf to point out how well Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray was playing.
Yeah, his save percentage is great and all, but what about these back-breaking goals he’s surrendering?
The “but” in that sentence was so big, Sir Mix-A-Lot could have written a song about it.
After Murray’s performance in a 3-2 Penguins win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night, though, the mood is beginning to change.
A mention of how well Murray is playing lately no longer seems out of place. It’s a mere recitation of facts.
Since returning from a lower-body injury Dec. 15, Murray is 22-7-4 with a .930 save percentage that ranks sixth in the league.
Counter to visual evidence to the contrary in recent days, he’s been downright outstanding during that same span while protecting a one-goal lead as well. His .941 save percentage while his team is up one is fifth-best in the league.
“I think Matt’s playing his best hockey of the year,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “There’s no doubt. I can just see it in his body language from the bench. He’s big as a house. You don’t see any net. He’s reading plays well. He’s anticipating. He’s squaring up to the puck. His rebound control is terrific. And he’s competing. He’s competing hard. When he’s playing the way he’s playing, he’s one of the top goaltenders in the league in my mind.”
Murray’s challenge Saturday night was a stiff one. The Stars are hanging onto one of the two wild-card playoff berths in the Western Conference, so each time they fell behind by a goal, they threw everything they had at Murray.
They succeeded in finding an equalizer the first two times the Penguins went up by a goal. The third time, Murray made sure they failed.
“They’ve got a lot of big guys, guys that are really good at the net front with good hands,” Murray said. “You’ve got a hard night. They go hard. They get a lot of tips and screens and second-chance opportunities. They made it a hard night for us, for sure.”
The only place Saturday night’s hard-fought Penguins win might have played better than it did in Pittsburgh was in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
That’s where Murray and Jared McCann were junior hockey teammates with the OHL’s Greyhounds.
McCann scored twice, including a highlight-reel backhand spin-o-rama in the third period, to give Murray all the run support he needed.
“He’s sick,” Murray said. “I knew it for a long time. He was lighting up the OHL when we played together. I was excited when we traded for him. He’s a good friend of mine. I know how skilled he is. He’s showing it right now. He’s a really good goal scorer, and he’s doing such a good job for us.”
McCann, naturally, returned the compliment.
“I feel like he doesn’t get the recognition sometimes that he deserves,” McCann said. “I’ve been able to play with him for quite a few years here, and even in the Soo, it was the same thing. He was just unbelievable. He’s obviously going to be one of the best goalies in the league for years to come.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .