First, it was Pekka Rinne under the microscope.
Now, it’s Matt Murray.
The Stanley Cup Final returns to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday, with the goaltending performances of Rinne and Murray providing plenty of fodder. In the last two games, Pittsburgh’s 23-year-old puck stopper has allowed eight goals against, which is the same amount Nashville’s goalie allowed in the opening two games in Pittsburgh.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked Monday evening if Murray was his starter for Game 5. On Tuesday, the same subject was approached yet again, when he was asked if there was any reason to consider a change.
Sullivan has, in each of his two postseasons as coach in Pittsburgh, made some notable lineup changes in net, including this year when he decided to give Murray the start in Game 4 versus the Senators and put Marc-Andre Fleury on the bench. Fleury had, for the most part, provided great goaltending for the Penguins throughout the playoffs while Murray battled back from an earlier injury.
But after Fleury’s struggles in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, Sullivan once again gambled, and it paid off.
As for any changes at that position, Sullivan wasn’t tipping his hand.
“We haven’t lost games because of our goaltending,” said Sullivan. “Like anything, we make our lineup decisions on a game-by-game basis. The one comment I will make is that we didn’t lose the game last night because of our goaltending.”
Following Monday’s game, Murray said it wasn’t his decision and that he would prepare just the same for the next contest.
After two difficult outings in Pittsburgh, Rinne found success in Nashville, allowing one goal in each of the last two games. He was sensational in Game 4, making 23 saves, none more spectacular than a flurry of saves he made in one sequence, starting with a pad stop on a Sidney Crosby breakaway chance and finishing with a desperation diving stop on the red-hot Jake Guentzel on the ensuing scramble.
“Certainly I thought last night, you know, it was a case we felt as though Matt had a solid game, but Pekka Rinne had a tremendous game,” said Sullivan.
“I think maybe early in the series, you could probably point in the other direction. These guys do have an impact on their team’s ability to have success. I think that’s the nature of playoff hockey.”