The Pittsburgh Penguins are making one big change to their lineup for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final: Out goes rookie goaltender Matt Murray, and in comes veteran Marc-Andre Fleury.
Matt Murray’s carriage didn’t exactly turn back into a pumpkin, but his four goals against in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final were enough to halt his Cinderella story run, at least momentarily.
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced Sunday that Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start in Game 5 of the conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending what had been a run of 13-straight starts for Murray, the 21-year-old upstart who has been one of the best stories of the playoffs. Sullivan said the choice to go with the veteran Fleury wasn’t an easy one.
“Lots of things went into the decision,” Sullivan said. “I’d rather not elaborate on the details of it, but certainly we had lengthy discussions. It’s an important decision for a hockey team. We’re trying to make the best decision that’s we can, that we think gives our team the best chance to win. And that’s the route, or the direction, that we chose to take for this game.”
Fleury’s start will be the first time he’s led the Penguins into a contest since March 31 against the Nashville Predators. In that contest, Fleury suffered his second concussion of the season, which resulted in him missing the next 12 games, including the entire first-round series between the Penguins and New York Rangers. When Fleury was finally able to return to the lineup in Game 3 of the second round, he suited up only as Murray’s backup, and the Penguins continued to ride Murray even when the netminder had a shaky Game 5 against the Washington Capitals.
The writing may have been on the wall for Murray, however. He allowed two early goals against during Game 2 against the Lightning and at the start of the second frame Sullivan was seen telling Fleury to be prepared to enter the game. Murray shut the door for the remainder of the contest, though, and started Games 3 and 4. It wasn’t until Murray was shelled for four goals in Game 4 — all of would have been difficult stops for him — that Sullivan made the switch for the first time this post-season. Sullivan said the rookie goaltender took the change in stride.
“Matt’s terrific,” Sullivan said. “He gets it. He’s a mature kid. And if and when he’s called upon to go back in the net, he’ll go back in the net. That’s what he does. He comes to the rink every day. He puts his equipment on, and he plays, and that’s one of the things that we love about him.”
Fleury is coming off of a strong regular season in which he posted 2.29 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, and he made the seven saves that were required of him in the third period of Game 4 as the Penguins mounted what was nearly a four-goal comeback. His career post-season numbers leave something to be desired, though. Over 99 career playoff games, Fleury is 53-44 but boasts a 2.64 GAA and mediocre .906 SP.
That said, his past two playoffs have seen his numbers vastly improve. In 2013-14, Fleury went 7-6 with a 2.40 GAA, .915 SP and two shutouts, followed by a five-game 2014-15 post-season in which he was the Penguins’ best player behind an offense that couldn’t solve Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Fleury put up a 2.12 GAA and .927 SP, but lost four of five games. Pittsburgh scored just one goal in four of those games.