The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning with what looked like a dunk to make the Stanley Cup Finals. The Lightning entered the series with injuries to key players while the Pens had too many players available and had to deliberate on who to play when it came to goal-tending. But after losing Game 4 on Friday night, the question that Pittsburgh is facing is if it is time to panic or not – and I think it is.
In recapping Game 4, the Pens gave up an early goal and continued to fall behind throughout the first and second periods. In the third period, the balance of the play decisively belonged to Pittsburgh. However, with a four-goal deficit to overcome they mounted their comeback too long as the Lightning held off a charge to keep some serious hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals alive. The final score from Game 4 was 4-3 for Tampa Bay, and the result forces head coach Mike Sullivan to ponder over who he should be playing in goal in the next game – Matt Murray or Marc-Andre Fleury.
On that matter, I think the Pens would be far better off if they went back to the veteran now, a player who lost his starting job when he picked up a late-season injury. When pressed on the matter of which goalie will start Mike Sullivan claimed, immediately after Game 4, that he had not “given it any thought.” That seems believable to me given that the decision doesn’t actually take much thought. The correct goaltender to go to is Fleury, the netminder from the 2009 Cup run.
Murray was all the talk in the earlier rounds, but who says that he’s the next Patrick Roy because of it? It’s true that Murray has played outstanding for stretches of the post-season. However, any NHL goaltender can play excellent over the short term, even the inexperienced backups. It could be that Murray was just hot at an important time, and now he’s regressing back to what he actually is – an average goalkeeper that should be a backup. After all, his save percentage over the last six games he has played in is below .900 – well below the acceptable percentage of an everyday NHL goalie.
Dan Rosen, an NHL commentator, stated “you can bet that Sullivan will be contemplating this decision at the postgame team meal, in his hotel room, when he wakes up Saturday and on the flight back to Pittsburgh. You can bet that this decision will weigh on his mind unlike any he has had to make so far.”
Totally wrong in my opinion.
Murray lost his job in Game 4 by giving up four goals in 40 minutes. Fleury came in for the third and stopped all seven shots that he faced. That’s as good of a warm-up as anything if you want to talk about shaking off the rust. The Penguins cannot afford to lose Game 5, or else they will be on the brink and a golden chance for the Cup could be gone shortly thereafter.
Sullivan can ONLY go to Fleury in Game 5 in my view, and I bet the decision is already made even if the official announcement is pending. For the Pittsburgh head coach, I’m not criticizing his past decisions. It was fine to ride a hot goaltender until he fizzled out. But now it’s time to get Fleury back in net to finish the Lightning off or else everything that happens falls directly on Sullivan’s plate.