PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray stood frozen, almost in disbelief after Alex Ovechkin’s game-winning goal with 67 seconds remaining in the third period of Tuesday night’s Game 3. The sequence was stunning in more ways than one. The goal gave the Washington Capitals a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead over their rivals, and it continued a stunning postseason from Ovechkin that has produced eight goals in nine games.
But it also revived questions about Murray’s glove, which has been a point of heated discussion over his brief, decorated career. Nobody could place outright blame on Murray on that Ovechkin goal, which came on a two-on-one — the rare odd-man rush in this pivotal game — and the point-blank shot sailed over Murray’s glove and hit the post before Ovechkin knocked it in. Yet it was the second time in the period that Murray’s glove couldn’t make a crucial save.
“I thought I was all over it. [Ovechkin] made a pretty good play to stay with and got it in,” said Murray, who finished with 18 saves. “It’s close, but I just have to make the save there.”
But the save that Murray really had to make came earlier in the period, with his team leading by a goal and building traction after a volcanic second period that saw the Penguins and Capitals combine for five goals and ratchet up the physicality. Just five minutes into the third period, it felt as though Pittsburgh was in complete control. Washington was looking to muster any offense it could. Capitals forward Matt Niskanen wristed a soft shot at Murray, who couldn’t control it with his glove and watched it pop out. The crowd at PPG Paints Arena groaned as the puck rolled over his shoulder and into the net. Tie game.
“I got a piece of it, and it just drifted in,” Murray said.
Murray has faced questions about his glove before, including during each of his last two postseason runs, when he helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup titles and became the entrenched goaltender in Pittsburgh over former franchise pillar Marc-Andre Fleury.
Pittsburgh Coach Mike Sullivan said Tuesday that he didn’t believe the Capitals were targeting his goaltender’s glove side, which had come after Murray had allowed two top-shelf goals to Ovechkin in Games 1 and 2, as well as glove-slide goals to Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly in Game 2. But the areas of the net that Murray is exposing are not any different from other goaltenders that prefer to use the butterfly style.
“When you look at the way that goaltenders are playing the position in today’s game, there’s a lot of butterfly style goaltending. When goaltenders butterfly, there’s certain areas of the net that tend to get exposed. Usually under the crossbar is one of them,” Sullivan said. “Our guys try to do the same thing.”
Murray stayed in net as the arena descended into chaos during the second period after Washington’s Tom Wilson delivered a controversial hit that knocked Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese out of the game. He did not weigh in on that hit, nor did he say he believed that the shot crossed the line. He was more reflective Tuesday about his own performance and the saves he believes he should have made. When he was asked if the Capitals were targeting his glove side or any other part of his game, he instead spoke on his opponents’ relentlessness.
“They’re coming in waves. They’re getting a lot off the rush,” he said. “You just have to take it as it comes.”