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Murray backstops Penguins to second straight championship

 

The Stanley Cup is returning to Thunder Bay this summer.

Still technically considered an NHL rookie, 23-year-old Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds graduate Matt Murray is a champion once again, hoisting the Stanley Cup for the second time in as many years despite having not yet reached the 100-game plateau on his young career.

The 6-foot-4 netminder overcame an injury sustained early in the postseason, taking over for goaltending partner Marc-Andre Fleury in the Eastern Conference Final to go 7-3 with a 1.70 goals-against average, a .937 save percentage and three shutouts in 11 games.

Murray capped things off with a 27-save shutout performance in Sunday’s 2-0 Game 6 win in Nashville to crown the Penguins as the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since thine 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings.

“We didn’t let the fact that we didn’t score all game get us down and we stuck to our game plan and were able to get a late one,” he said during post-game celebrations. “It says a lot about the character of our team and I’m so proud and so honoured to be a part of this team to get this done here back-to-back.”

Murray posted a 79-60-4-10 regular season record over four seasons with Sault Ste. Marie from 2010-14, setting a franchise record with six shutouts in his final campaign. Upon turning pro, the big butterfly netminder had a season to remember with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2014-15, receiving the Baz Bastien Memorial Award as the league’s top goaltender as he registered a league-leading 1.58 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage and 12 shutouts, setting a new AHL record with a 304 minute shutout streak in the process.

Murray’s AHL accolades were just the tip of the iceberg as he joined Ken Dryden (1971 Montreal Canadiens), Patrick Roy (1986 Montreal Canadiens) and Cam Ward (2006 Carolina Hurricanes) as the fourth rookie starting goaltender to hoist the Stanley Cup in San Jose last spring as the Penguins defeated the Sharks in six games.

Fast forward a year and Murray is a champion once again, backstopping Pittsburgh to a 4-2 series win over the Nashville Predators to give the franchise its fifth Stanley Cup title.

He was solid throughout the series, helping the Pens take a 2-0 series lead on home ice despite being outshot 64-39 over Games 1 and 2. His consecutive shutouts in Games 5 and 6 make him the first goaltender since Detroit’s Terry Sawchuk in 1952 to close out a Stanley Cup Final with back-to-back blankings.

“Last year it was pretty special being my first run and first real time going around the NHL,” he reflected. “This year for different reasons I think. I went through some injuries and some adversity and I think I was able to come back not only quickly, but stronger than before. A big thank you to our staff for helping me out there.”

Murray’s most cherished moment came when goaltending partner Marc-Andre Fleury opted to break from tradition and pass him, a much younger teammate, the Stanley Cup in post-game celebrations.

“Flower (Fleury) is the biggest reason why we even got here,” Murray noted. “He’s been a special person for me, a huge mentor and the fact that he passed me the cup there is really something. My rank is way down at the bottom and I got it ahead of some of the older guys and that’s because Flower handed it to me and I have to say that’s one of the most special moments of my life.”

Murray is the first CHL graduate to hoist the Stanley Cup as a starting goaltender in consecutive years since Edmonton’s Grant Fuhr (Victoria Cougars) in 1987 and 1988.

He was one of 15 CHL graduates on Pittsburgh’s playoff roster and one of six to see action in the 2017 NHL Playoffs.

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