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Penguins

Penguins' Matt Murray returns to practice, could play Tuesday

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, March 17, 2018, 1:15 p.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray blocks a shot by the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Las Vegas.
John Locher/AP
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray blocks a shot by the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a save on the Maple Leafs' William Nylander in the first period Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a save on the Maple Leafs' William Nylander in the first period Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

For a race car driver, taking the checkered flag isn't as exhilarating if there's no chance of a crash.

For a boxer, having his hand raised in victory isn't as thrilling if there's no chance of getting knocked out.

It's living on the edge, and Penguins goalie Matt Murray knows exactly what it feels like.

Murray has experienced some of the highest highs hockey can offer over the past two seasons, winning the Stanley Cup twice before his 24th birthday. He's also suffered two documented concussions during that span.

His story brings into focus the risk-reward debate that every athlete in a contact sport has to reconcile in his own mind.

"That's what makes it exciting, honestly," Murray said after practice Saturday. "It makes it a little bit fun too, that danger that we go through night in and night out. It's definitely something that is a part of our game. You don't try to avoid it. You don't try to fix it or anything like that. You just play your game and take it as it comes."

Murray returned to a full team practice Saturday for the first time since he was hit in the head by an Olli Maatta shot during a Feb. 26 practice.

Coach Mike Sullivan said he wouldn't rule the goaltender out for the team's next game Tuesday at the Islanders.

Murray was playing his best hockey of the season before the injury, going 8-0-1 with a .926 save percentage in a nine-start stretch coming off a leave of absence due to the death of his father.

"I've been itching to get back out there ever since I got hurt," Murray said.

Safety technology continues to evolve, making each generation of goalies better protected than the last, but a shot in the wrong spot is a shot in the wrong spot, yesterday, today and forever.

"These guys shoot the puck pretty darn hard," Murray said. "Especially in practice, every shot is Grade A, right in the slot. You can wear whatever you want on your head. You can wrap your head in bubble wrap. It's out of your control. Sometimes stuff happens."

It would have been perfectly natural to expect Murray to have to deal with a flinch factor on his first few shots upon returning.

"Maybe a little bit, but once you're out there, you just kind of jump in," Murray said. "You really can't. If you flinch, that's when you can get hurt because you're not reacting to it. You're not able to absorb it or whatever it might be. You try to avoid that for sure. You jump in and play. You almost forget about it once you're out there, to be honest."

Between the two concussions, a hand injury that cost him the first month of last season and a torn hamstring that kept him out the first two rounds of last year's playoffs, Murray's injury history is getting lengthy.

He said he can't worry about that.

"I'm only human. Sometimes stuff happens out there," Murray said. "It's a fast-paced game. Guys shoot the puck pretty hard. I don't really think about that. I don't get frustrated. I just take what comes my way and try to do my best with it."

Murray also said he's not concerned about the potential long-term effects of multiple concussions, as long as he's doing his part by not hiding any symptoms he may be experiencing.

"That's the doctor's job. I'm no medical specialist," Murray said. "I just try to be honest with myself and how I'm feeling every day and go from there."

NOTES: Carter Rowney will be out "longer term" with an upper-body injury, Sullivan said. The Penguins will likely call up a replacement forward from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before Tuesday's game. Josh Jooris is the leading candidate … Phil Kessel did not practice Saturday. Sullivan said he had the day off for maintenance. … Rookie winger Zach Aston-Reese, out since Feb. 24 with an upper-body injury, skated on his own after practice.

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

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