Last week, Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy brought a little perspective about what it might be like to be 21-year-old rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who will face the Capitals tonight in Game 1 of the second-round series between two of the NHL’s greatest rivals.
“When I was 21 years old, I was drinking beers in my frat basement at (that) point in my life,” Lovejoy said.
Tonight at Verizon Center Murray will look to continue what has been a joyride through his first full professional hockey season. Called up by the Penguins as an injury replacement for starter Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) Murray went 9-2-1 down the stretch for the Pens and replaced backup Jeff Zatkoff in Game 3 of the first-round series against the New York Rangers, going a perfect 3-0 while allowing just four goals.
Murray outdueled Henrik Lundqvist in Round 1 and he’ll face Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby in Round 2. Pretty stiff competition. As you might expect, the Caps say the key to getting under the mask of any goalie is to get into his crease. Maybe even more so against a rookie.
“You can make goalies look good and you can make goalies look bad,” Caps left wing Jason Chimera said. “He’s been playing really good. He’s a pretty young talent and from what I’ve seen he’s played really well.
“You’ve got to force things on him early. Neuvy (Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth) had a lot less to lose going in down 3-0. Murray didn’t start the last series and it’s a different ballgame when you start a series as a young kid. Hopefully, we can get on him early.”
Murray, a lanky 6-foot-4 native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, faced the Capitals twice during the regular season, allowing three goals on 37 shots in a 3-2 loss March 1, and beating the Caps 4-3 in overtime on April 7 after allowing three goals on 30 shots.
“Of course we want to put pressure on their D and their goalie, obviously,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who did not score on Murray in the two games and went the entire season series without a point against Pittsburgh. “They don’t play physical much. We have to use it.”
Ovechkin said he believes the Caps have the edge in goal.
“(Holtby) is the best goalie in the league,” he said. “When you have that kind of weapon on your team, it’s huge.”
In many ways Murray finds himself in a similar situation that Holtby found himself in four years ago when he was thrust into the playoff spotlight as a 22-year-old following late-season injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth. That spring, Holtby defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Round 1 and established himself as the Caps’ No. 1 netminder.
“Obviously, you’re just excited to get the chance,” Holtby said of his 2012 playoff experience. “We’re expecting him to play well. He’s an extremely talented goalie and just like anything, the gap between one and 16 in this league isn’t very big, so you have to create goals that are going to go in.”
Before this season, Holtby’s playoff experience consisted of five straight playoff series that lasted seven games. He said getting three days off between Sunday’s Game 6 against the Flyers and tonight’s Game 1 against the Penguins was ideal.
Holtby believes he’s a better goalie because of his playoff experience but is not discounting Murray’s ability to stay hot.
“Every bit of experience helps in any way, shape or form and hopefully you can feel a little more comfortable in those strenuous situations, but everyone’s different,” Holtby said. “It just matters the moment you’re in if you can execute. That’s the focus. You can’t reflect on the past or the future, stay in the moment.”