Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan announced Friday afternoon that goaltender Matt Murray would get his first start of the playoffs later that evening in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Ottawa Senators. Murray will replace Marc-Andre Fleury, who gave up four goals on nine shots in the first period of Wednesday’s 5-1 loss.
“That’s been a hard decision for this coaching staff all year long,” Sullivan told reporters. “As I said yesterday, it’s a good difficult decision to have because we have two guys who are as capable as they are. Both of these guys have helped this team win all year long. They’re both high-quality people and they’re high-quality goaltenders. We never take these decisions lightly. They’re extremely difficult decisions. This is the choice that we made for Game 4.”
Murray took over for Fleury after Ottawa’s first-period outburst Wednesday, stopping 19 of 20 shots. He had not previously played during the postseason after re-aggravating a lower-body injury during warm-ups before Pittsburgh’s playoff opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s a somewhat similar situation to last season, when Murray suffered a concussion in the Penguins’ regular season finale and sat out the team’s first two playoff games before taking over for Fleury and helping lead Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup.
Fleury shut out the Senators in Pittsburgh’s 1-0 Game 2 victory and was stout for the Penguins in their semifinal series against the Washington Capitals. But then he gave up three goals in a 2:18 span midway through the first period on Wednesday and soon found himself on the bench.
“Marc was a professional like he always is,” Sullivan said. “Both of these guys handled the decision we made extremely professional. As we always say to them, these guys are both competitors. They both want to be in the net. We don’t always expect them to agree with our decisions. Our hope is that they respect our decision. Both of them have always been professional. They’re competitors. I understand. They want to be in the net. That’s what makes them as good as they are. As I said, these decisions are very difficult. That’s the choice that we made.”
The Senators lead the series, 2-1.