Murray’s ‘calming influence’ on the Penguins hasn’t changed despite Game 5 loss

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PITTSBURGH — Matt Murray‘s slender frame has spent the last two months seemingly impervious to the increasingly massive weight on his shoulders.

Until Thursday. Skating onto the ice at Consol Energy Center with a chance to help the Pittsburgh Penguins raise the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup, the enormity of the moment – however briefly – may have gotten the best of the 22-year-old rookie.

Murray used phrases like “a little bit jittery” and “a little bit nervous” to describe the opening minutes of Pittsburgh’s 4-2 loss to San Jose in Game 5, a stretch when he allowed three goals on five shots as the Sharks earned a return trip to the West Coast for Game 6 on Sunday night thanks to 44 saves from goaltender Martin Jones.

“As a team we really settled down after a tough start but we came back and stayed resilient,” Murray said. “We played the way we needed to to win the game but their goalie stood on his head.”

Related: Pens rally behind Murray after second shaky effort

Something Murray has done at times during Pittsburgh’s run to the final, particularly after a rare bumpy patch. He has yet to drop consecutive starts during the playoffs, going 5-0 with a 1.76 goals against average in games following a loss. Having a team peaking in front of him – one that doesn’t think twice about stepping in front of shots before they ever make it to Murray – helps. So does Murray’s healthy self-confidence.

“I don’t think I played badly by any means,” Murray said.

Maybe, but Murray knows he’s at a portion of the season where being OK won’t be good enough. In the big picture, he has a very real shot at capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy given to the playoff MVP. His 14 wins during the postseason are one away from the NHL record for victories by a rookie.

Still, it’s not the number of goals Murray is giving up but the nature of them that’s a bit problematic.

There was Joel Ward‘s breakaway slap shot from the slot in Game 3 that set the stage for Joonas Donskoi‘s wrist shot from in overtime that gave the Sharks life. There was Brent Burns‘ opening goal on Thursday, a score that in some ways mirrored Donskoi’s winner, zipping past Murray’s right shoulder. There was Melker Karlsson‘s flip late in the first period that went through the same hole between left pad and his glove that Ward found.

Would Murray have liked to be sharper just three periods from a championship, a victory that would allow him to tie the NHL record for wins by a rookie goaltender in the playoffs? Of course. It didn’t happen, so the Penguins keep playing. He hasn’t lost much sleep since taking over in Game 3 of the opening round against the New York Rangers. He’s not going to start now.

“I thought they had a couple of lucky bounces,” he said.

Bounces he insists will not affect the way he approaches his job. He spent the first portion of the postseason in an odd sort of limbo while Marc-Andre Fleury recovered from a concussion. He surrendered the starting gig to Fleury for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, only to get it back immediately after Fleury was less than crisp in defeat. Murray was hardly rattled by the brief demotion, and ripped off four straight victories.

“One of the things we love about him is his demeanor,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He has a calming influence on the group.”

A sense of ease that belies the fact Murray has made all of 33 starts in the NHL. Unlike the emotive Fleury – who is not above good-naturedly giving the posts a grateful kiss when a puck caroms out of harm’s way – Murray is decidedly chill regardless of the circumstances.

He spends his down time at the driving range or scrolling through Netflix looking for something that catches his eye. He has a rule for what happens when he hits “play.” If he doesn’t like the first 10 minutes, he hits stop and moves on. It’s the same when things don’t go his way during a game. Though he prides himself on his ability to “turn it off” once he leaves the rink, if he finds his mind fixated on a certain thing, he’ll go for a walk to clear his head.

Maybe that’s why a cross-country flight to California isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a guy who had a neighborhood street named after him – for a day anyway – before Game 5. Given an extra day of rest, he’ll hit the reset button, probably see what’s on Netflix and take a deep breath.

The adrenaline will flow on Sunday night, just like it always does. If he can keep it under control, particularly early, he likes his chances.

“It’s just learning how to handle it the right way,” he said. “If you can kind of harness that and use it for the right reasons. Use that energy and feed off the crowd and stuff like that you’re going to be in good shape.”

Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky: A legendary bond

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When it came to No. 9 and No. 99, the bond between Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky spans most of Gretzky’s life.

“The Great One” noted to ESPN that he initially met “Mr. Hockey” when he was about eight or nine years old, the first of many instances in which the two legends crossed paths.

“It was the greatest day of my life,” Gretzky said on the Dan Patrick Show today while discussing Howe’s passing.

Gretzky volunteers as much time and time again: he believes Howe is the best hockey player of all-time.

“I’m impressed by Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Toews — those guys do such great things for our game today,” Gretzky told ESPN in February. “But Gordie Howe is the greatest player who ever lived. There’s not even a question about it. Imagine scoring 20 goals at 50 years old? Jonathan Toews might be the greatest athlete in the game today. He’s not playing at 50 and he’s not scoring 20 goals. Nobody ever will again. It’s a fact.”

One of their early meetings spawned this iconic image, via Sports Illustrated’s Vault:

It was far from the last, however, as the two became intrinsically linked as Gretzky eventually passed Howe for the NHL’s all-time points lead.

They even apparently ended up recreating that photo:

Remarkably, Howe and Gretzky crossed paths on the ice during Howe’s incredibly lengthy, one-of-a-kind playing career:

Gretzky noted on the Dan Patrick Show that people sometimes feel disappointment when they meet their idols, yet Howe lived up to lofty expectations.

In this great Sportsnet interview, Gretzky explained the rather simple way that Howe became his favorite player. He also steadfastly sticks to his belief that Howe was the greatest.

“Don’t look at this as I’m breaking your records, look at it as the game’s changed,” Gretzky said when explaining why he asked Howe to be on hand for some of those record-breaking moments.

More than a few people from around the hockey world either agree or at least understand the argument.

In the grand scheme of things, those debates aren’t particularly important. It seems pretty clear that Howe and Gretzky formed a bond that transcended the sport, and they knew it.

Update: Gretzky posted this two-part statement on Twitter:

More on “Mr Hockey.”

The hockey world mourns Howe

Dan Patrick reflects upon Howe’s legacy

The NHL pays tribute to No. 9

Video: NHL shares first episode of Showtime’s playoff coverage

TAMPA, FL - MAY 18:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins slides in the Tampa Bay Lightning net after a play during the second period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 18, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Have you ever watched an episode of the 24/7-style series of hockey documentaries – on HBO, Epix or otherwise – and thought, “How cool would it be if they did this for the playoffs.”

Well, the NHL is doing just that for the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In this case, it’s partnering with Showtime. The league shared the first episode of “ALL ACCESS: Quest for the Stanley Cup.” Enjoy it in the video below and feel free to get pumped for the remaining games, including Saturday’s Game 4 contest between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.

Caps GM: Penguins’ speed ‘took over’ at times

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Carl Hagelin #62 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second-period goal against Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins made the Washington Capitals look slow. On that, most observers can agree.

For the Caps, the question now is whether that was due more to personnel or tactics.

“Overall, I don’t think we’re a slow team, but I think at times, we get exposed with the really fast teams,” said GM Brian MacLellan, per CSN Washington. “Dallas, Pittsburgh, we did struggle sometimes with the pace of the game. I don’t think all of the time. I think sometimes I see it more as we don’t enforce our style of play on the speed team. We sit back and let them do the speed game.”

Certainly, guys like Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel used their speed effectively against Washington. The Caps, meanwhile, tried to employ more of a heavy style. Maybe not quite as heavy as the Los Angeles Kings or St. Louis Blues, but in that neighborhood.

“The Pittsburgh series, I think at times their speed took over, and then at times, we took over with a physical, pressure style, physical strength style of play,” said MacLellan. “It went back and forth quite a bit. I think it’s on us, the style we want to play, upon the speed teams, so while speed is a factor, I think we need to enforce the way we want to play on teams, and more consistently.”

MacLellan is unlikely to make drastic changes to the lineup, so while there may be a few tweaks here and there, the Capitals’ ability to handle faster teams may depend largely on the adjustments that head coach Barry Trotz makes.

“That’s something that we’re really going to talk about,” Trotz said, per the Washington Post. “It’s been – not an issue – but it’s been brought up. … They throw pucks to space and use some of that speed to create some of that, so it makes you look a lot faster sometimes. We’re going to look at it from a style standpoint and some of the teams that have been doing that a little bit.”

‘Just worried about safety of friends and family’: NHL donates $100K to Fort McMurray fire relief effort

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With more than 80,000 residents forced to evacuate the Alberta city of Fort McMurray due to a raging wild fire, the National Hockey League is donating $100,000 to the Canadian Red Cross relief effort.

“The National Hockey League family stands with all who have been affected by the devastating fires in Fort McMurray,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement on Thursday.

“We send thoughts of support and encouragement to our neighbors as they confront the physical and emotional impacts of this disaster.”

The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are also each donating $100,000 to the relief effort, as per the Associated Press.

The evacuation is the largest fire evacuation in Alberta’s history, according to the Globe and Mail.

From the Globe and Mail:

Alberta Emergency Management Agency estimated that 80,000 people had fled Fort McMurray; the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the figure could be closer to 90,000. Of those forced to evacuate, approximately 10,000 are north of the city, where they have been directed to shelter at work camps.

 

St. Louis Blues forward Scottie Upshall is from Fort McMurray, which is north of Edmonton, and he recently spoke about the devastation of that community.

“I saw the freeway that I used to drive in from the airport. And both sides of the roads were kind of just 100-foot flames. I saw a couple restaurants that I used to go eat at and those were gone,” Upshall told Postmedia.

“Yeah, there was a lot of things going through my head yesterday. Most of my family was trying not to overplay it at all, but there was nothing to really overplay when something like that happens. Just worried about the safety of friends and family, more so at the time my nieces, who were still in Fort McMurray while my brother and his fiancé are here watching us play.”

Related: Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires