Mike Halford

Despite reports to the contrary, Matt Murray was nervous every day

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SAN JOSE — So, question for Matt Murray:

You just won the Stanley Cup, a 22-year-old rookie playing the sport’s most pressure-packed position.

How did you manage to avoid getting nervous?

“I said every day that I was nervous,” he replied.


“You guys are the ones that said I wasn’t nervous,” he continued, following Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. “I said every day I was nervous. It’s no secret. It’s not easy, but it’s just not being overcome by your nerves.”


Perhaps the question shouldn’t have been how Murray avoided being nervous, but rather how he dealt with it.

‘Cause let’s be honest, the way he’s handled the last few months has been almost unbelievable. A year ago at this time, he was enjoying the offseason after an abbreviated Calder Cup playoff run with AHL Wilkes-Barre. He was the fourth goalie on Pittsburgh’s depth chart — behind Marc-Andre Fleury, Thomas Greiss and Jeff Zatkoff — and destined for another campaign in the American League.

How things change.

Griess exited via free agency, and injuries to Fleury and Zatkoff opened the door. Now, Murray’s a Stanley Cup champion. He’s etched into the NHL record books, having tied the mark for most playoff wins by a rookie netminder — 15, along with Cam Ward, Ron Hextall and Patrick Roy.

He also joined some exclusive company with his accomplishments in this series:

And while there’s no official record book for overcoming nerves, Murray definitely set a few marks this postseason.

Perhaps no stat better illustrates this than his perfect 6-0 record after a loss. Against San Jose, that bounce-back ability proved to be especially vital, as it nullified the Sharks from gaining any sort of momentum.

There was some thought that, after a shaky Game 5 in which he allowed three goals on seven shots in the opening frame, the Sharks could expose Murray’s jitters tonight. Didn’t happen. San Jose had some looks, and a few quality scoring chances early, but Murray was sharp throughout and finished with 18 saves on 19 shots.

“[Murray] was unbelievable for us,” Pens defenseman Ian Cole said. “He was able to come in and just be our backbone. I mean, Fleury got us here and in this position and with his injury, Murray replaced him and played out of his mind.

“Enough can’t be said about how he stepped up.”

Thankfully for Murray, the nerves will now subside. There are no more games to play, no more questions to answer, no more cameras to face. Sure, he’ll have to deal with all the media scrutiny again in a few months, when the Penguins enter camp and he’s no longer Matt Murray, goalie prospect, but Matt Murray, Cup-winning netminder.

The nerves will probably come back. But they can wait until then.

“We got it done,” Murray exhaled. “So now I can take a deep breath here, and enjoy it.”

On the evolution of Crosby, Pittsburgh’s ‘consummate leader’


SAN JOSE — Sidney Crosby didn’t lead the Penguins in goals this postseason.

He didn’t lead in assists, either.

In fact, Bryan Rust found the back of the net as many times as Crosby did. And Nick Bonino had more helpers.

Yet to hear the Penguins explain it, there was nobody more valuable to the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history than No. 87 — statistics to be damned.

“What I really admire about Sid is that it didn’t matter,” Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said about Crosby’s individual numbers. “All that mattered is that we were winning, and that’s all he cared about.

“He pushed this group. He led first and foremost through his play. He was a handful every shift. They scored a big goal tonight, and his line comes right back and gets that second goal. He elevates his game at the right time to help our team get over the hump.”

The goal Sullivan’s referring to:

This series against the Sharks hammered home the shift in Crosby’s game. He only finished with four points in six games — all assists, no goals — but his impact was beyond pronounced.

There was a deft, sweeping backhand pass to set up Conor Sheary for a goal in Game 1. There was Crosby “calling his shot” with a designed faceoff play for the OT winner in Game 2.

Tonight, it was a monster shift right after Logan Couture had tied the game.

Yes, Kris Letang was equally brilliant and yes, the Sharks were defensively discombobulated. But it was Crosby that made the all-important pass to Letang, putting Letang in the record books alongside Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis and Max Talbot as the only Penguins to score Stanley Cup-winning goals.

“[Crosby’s] the consummate leader,” Sullivan said. “He took this team, and this team evolved because of his leadership.”

One of the major narratives making the rounds right now is about Crosby’s redefinition of his defensive and two-way game.

It was really on display in this series, but dates all the way back to second round against Washington — his line was matched up against the Alex Ovechkin line, and the two essentially sawed each other off. Crosby didn’t receive huge accolades at the time, and his production was down, but his ability to neutralize Washington’s high-octane unit also allowed Pittsburgh’s other lines to receive easier matchups, a big part of the HBK’s success this postseason.

“He can adapt and change his game to different things,” Chris Kunitz said. “Early in his career he went out and got points and did everything but that didn’t make him satisfied.

“He had to go out and lead through example and became a better player. Offense, defense, he goes out with nine seconds left, takes a faceoff for our team. He’s the all-encompassing guy.”

No longer the 100-plus point scorer he was in his early 20s, Crosby has seemingly found that groove all the greats find — one that lets the game come to them. One that doesn’t force the issue, but takes advantage of the opportunities presented.

One that knows the defensive side of the game can as important — if not more — than the offensive side.

“Sometimes in the playoffs you have to play defense, and I think he’s been able to do that,” Pens owner Mario Lemieux said. “The game was on the line a few times, and he made some great plays defensively.

“That’s the sign of a great leader, and a great captain.”

Seven year itch, scratched: Pens win Stanley Cup


SAN JOSE — When Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won their first Stanley Cup in 2009, few expected such a long wait for the second.

It took seven years, to the day in fact, but the wait is over — on Sunday, the Penguins became champions once again with a 3-1 win over San Jose in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Fittingly, it was Crosby who played a key role in the winning goal.

He set up Kris Letang at the 7:43 mark of the second period, and Letang’s sharp angle shot squeaked through Martin Jones, less than 90 seconds after Logan Couture had erased Brian Dumoulin‘s opening tally.

Patric Hornqvist scored the insurance marker into an empty net with 1:02 remaining.

With his goal, Letang became part of an elite group of Penguins. He, Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis and Max Talbot have scored the four Cup-winning goals in franchise history.

Letang almost didn’t have the chance to go down in Pittsburgh lore, however.

With Martin Jones standing on his head — again — the Sharks were able to hang around for entirety of tonight’s contest despite — again — being out-shot and out-possessed.

This dynamic was perhaps no better illustrated that in the second period, when Jones somehow kept Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz from converting on a wide open 2-on-1:

(To be fair, Kunitz and Malkin did their own part in keeping the puck out.)

With Jones playing the role of hero, San Jose was given a stay of execution in the late stages of the second period, and most of the third. But the Sharks were unable to get anything past Matt Murray, the rookie netminder that stood tall after a shaky effort in Game 5.

A big reason why?

They couldn’t get any shots on goal.

After a strong second frame in which they fired 13 shots on Murray and scored their lone goal, the Sharks went dead silent in the third, registering just two SOG.

Pittsburgh’s speed and stifling team defense deserves major credit for silencing the San Jose attack. The Sharks had major problems getting anything through the neutral zone, a problem that dogged them throughout the series.

As such, the Sharks will probably look back on this final with mixed emotions. Onlookers never got the sense they saw the true San Jose team in this final, as Pittsburgh dictated how things went right from the opening puck drop of Game 1.

Still, there are positives to be taken.

This was the deepest and most prolific playoff run in the franchise’s 25-year history, and the Sharks got breakout performances from Jones and Joonas Donskoi, who was arguably the team’s best skater.

For the Penguins? It was pure elation.

After a mediocre start to the year, a coaching change and a series of trades, Pittsburgh caught fire and was clearly the NHL’s top team — well deserving of Lord Stanley’s Mug. A new young star emerged in goal with Murray, and a patchwork defense featuring the likes of Justin Schultz, Ian Cole and Brian Dumoulin held strong in the face of some serious competition.

But in the end, though, it was Pittsburgh’s stars that got the job done. Crosby to Letang for the game-winner, and the Pens were back atop the hockey world.

Hornqvist: Despite loss, Pens ‘rolled over’ Sharks in Game 5

SAN JOSE — To hear Patric Hornqvist explain it, the Penguins don’t need to change much from their loss to the Sharks on Thursday night.

“I think we played a hell of a game the last 55 minutes of the game,” Hornqvist said ahead of tonight’s Game 6 in San Jose. “We rolled over them. We got so many scoring chances, but we couldn’t find the puck.

“We have to play exactly the same game here tonight.”

Statistically speaking, Hornqvist’s right.

Though Pittsburgh lost 4-2, the club carried the majority of the play and out-shot the Sharks 46-22. Per war-on-ice, Pittsburgh won the Corsi battle 76-36, had 19 high quality scoring chances to San Jose’s seven, and had 23 offensive zone starts to San Jose’s 12.

So yeah, the ice was tilted.

When it wasn’t tilted, though, was in the opening five minutes, in which the teams combined to score four goals. That seemed to rattle Pens netminder Matt Murray, who ultimately allowed three goals on just seven shots in the opening frame — and the last one, Melker Karlsson‘s fluttering knuckler, held up as the eventual game-winner.

“Maybe clean up the first five minutes, learn about that,” was all Hornqvist would concede about possibly changing things up for Game 6.  “Other than that, if we play like we did, I like our chances.”

Now, do keep one thing in mind.

Possession and shot metrics haven’t meant an awful lot in this series.

San Jose learned that in Game 4 when — after out-shooting Pittsburgh (24-20) for the first and only time in the final — it mustered just a single goal of offense in a 3-1 loss. And the Pens have experienced this throughout, having cumulatively out-shot San Jose 179 to 120… yet having only out-scored San Jose 12 to 11.

Still, Pittsburgh feels in control of this series, and that the Sharks are fortunate to be where they are.

“I think we played a little bit better than San Jose,” Evgeni Malkin said after Game 5. “They’re a good team, but they were a little bit lucky.”

Related: Sharks ‘get to live another day,’ thanks mostly to Jones

Gordie Howe’s visitation, funeral open to public

From the Free Press:

Murray Howe told the Free Press today his father’s funeral and visitation will be open to the public.

Visitation will be held 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. The funeral service will be 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, 9844 Woodward Ave., in Detroit.

Large crowds are anticipated to bid farewell to arguably the greatest athlete in Detroit’s history. Howe spent 25 of his 26 NHL campaigns wearing the winged wheel, and holds a number of the franchise’s records — including most games played, goals and points.

In 1972, the Red Wings hoisted Howe’s No. 9 into the Joe Louis rafters. In 2007, the club erected a 1,500-pound bronze statue in his likeness and, last year, then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor would be named after Howe.

The Howe ceremony is reminiscent of what the Montreal Canadiens held in the wake of Jean Beliveau’s passing in 2014. The Habs conducted a public visitation at the Bell Centre prior to Beliveau’s funeral.