The Pittsburgh Penguins are still in a good spot in the Stanley Cup final, but they’ll need a better results from veteran Evgeni Malkin and rookie Matt Murray if they want to go back home with a 3-1 lead.
SAN JOSE – Whether or not the Pittsburgh Penguins can win the Stanley Cup after their hiccup in Game 3 of the final could depend on two things. The first one is whether or not 22-year-old goalie Matt Murray has the mental makeup and maturity to put his worst game of these playoffs in the rear-view mirror. The second is whether Evgeni Malkin can find his game and have a more significant impact.
As far as Murray’s mental makeup, the Penguins probably liked what they saw Sunday afternoon when Murray addressed Game 3. There is no way to sugarcoat the fact that the tying goal was not a good one and that he should have been better positioned on the overtime game-winner. But like so many other great goalies before him, Murray has a level of self-confidence that refuses to let him believe he was sub-par. That’s what makes these guys so good in the first place.
“I don’t view (Game 3) as a bounce-back game, to be honest,” Murray said. “I thought I was pretty good all game. One not-great goal goes in, but that doesn’t make it a bad game and it’s not going to shake my confidence.”
It’s certainly not going to shake Penguin coach Mike Sullivan’s confidence, either. Nor should it. Sullivan coached Murray in the American League and has a good feel for the players he coached there who are up with the big team now, much the same way Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper has with the players he coached on the Lightning’s AHL team. Much of the Penguins success since Sullivan started coaching is predicated on the young players not always looking over their shoulders after a bad shift or a bad game. They know their coach has their back and will give them a chance to redeem themselves.
“He’ll be fine,” Sullivan said of Murray. “The one thing we love about him is his makeup and his ability to move by circumstances that maybe aren’t what he had hoped they’d be and just focus on the next game or the next save.”
Malkin’s situation is a little more delicate. The winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 has yet to score a point in the series and has not been much of a force offensively. Yes, he has bought into the two-way game, but the Penguins don’t pay Malkin $9.5 million a year to be a checking center. He hasn’t had the puck near as much as he’d like and the absence of Trevor Daley has hurt in that regard, since Kris Letang is the only Penguins defenseman who is a consistent puck mover. Malkin’s fiancée, Anna Kasterova, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy named Nikita, the day after Game 1, so you know he has a lot on his plate at the moment.
“He’s been a big part of this playoff success,” Sullivan said of Malkin. “But certainly I know that there’s another level that he has to help us win. We’re trying to encourage him to find that balance in his game of making those plays when the opportunities present themselves, and when they’re not, to make the simple play. He has the ability to be a difference maker on any given shift. We certainly don’t want to discourage him from that.”
Sullivan said the Penguins coaching staff want its players to act on their instincts and try to make plays. He said he doesn’t believe in “taking the sticks out of their hands,” intimating that perhaps Malkin is overthinking things.
Murray has been outstanding and is 4-0 after games that he has lost in these playoffs. He has been remarkable on in-tight plays around his crease. In fact, he’s almost impenetrable from in close. The Sharks have undoubtedly noticed this and, despite having a ton of shots blocked by the Penguins, will continue their shooting mentality. By making plays from further out and going high, they might have found a chink in the armor. Murray plays deeper in his net than any goalie the Sharks have faced in the playoffs and when he goes down, as he showed on the overtime goal in Game 3, he often stays down.
“There are always things you could have done differently,” Murray said. “If I stay upright, it hits me in the shoulder. I think he also got a little lucky with a rolling puck.”
Murray’s coach, meanwhile, has no doubt that goaltending will not be an issue in Game 3. “(Murray’s) body of work throughout the course of this playoffs has been terrific,” Sullivan said. “We know he’s going to make the timely save for us moving forward. I know Matt will respond the right way.”