Matt Murray has little recollection of one of the most pivotal moments of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators – even though he was the central character.
The Senators raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first period of Game 3 in the series, with the raucous Canadian Tire Centre crowd exploding with emotion following three goals in the span of just over two minutes for the home side.
In the deafening pandemonium, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan calmly made a switch that ultimately turned the tide of the series.
He replaced Marc-Andre Fleury with Matt Murray and the young netminder never relinquished the crease again, helping the Penguins win a second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
"In terms of the atmosphere honestly, I don’t remember too much about it because I think I was so focused and I kind of blacked out for that game," Murray said Thursday morning. "It had been so long since I played."
Murray hadn’t seen game action in six weeks at that point after injuring himself in the pre-game warmup of the playoff-opener against Columbus. So Murray used that game to shake off the rust, but then played a crucial role in helping the Penguins rebound from a 2-1 series deficit to ultimately capture the series in seven games. He won three of the next four games in the series, posting a .946 save percentage in the process and won a double-overtime contest in Game 7.
"That was a great series and two great teams and one that I’ll remember for the rest of my life and remember it fondly for sure," says Murray.
Murray may have ruined the Ottawa Senators’ best chance at a Stanley Cup in the past decade with his performance in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final, but now it could be his job to backstop a young, rising Ottawa team to a title when their window of contention opens in a couple of years.
After he was acquired by the Senators on Wednesday – in exchange for a second-round pick and prospect Jonathan Gruden – it appears as though the 26-year-old Murray has the inside track on being the Senators No. 1 netminder for years to come.
"This is a young team stacked with talent and heading in absolutely the right direction," Murray said. "I think anybody would be excited to be a part of a team that has a really bright future. I see a really good fit for me there, being a bit of an older guy now. I guess I feel like I have a lot to bring to a team like that."
Going from a locker room that featured veteran leaders such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to Ottawa’s neophyte group will almost certainly be a shock to the system for Murray.
As the roster is currently constructed, not a single Ottawa defenceman has 300 games of NHL experience, which means there could be a lot of difficult nights in the defensive zone for an inexperienced group.
That’s where the playoff experience and cool personality of Murray could be a valuable asset to a young team trying to climb up in the standings.
"As a goalie, I think it’s important to keep the same approach – to try and be the rock back there and to try and always keep your demeanour in the right place," Murray said. "I think when guys look back at the goalie, they should feel comfortable and they should feel confident. That’s the kind of demeanour that I try and bring no matter what the scenario is."
Murray’s position as Ottawa’s long-term netminder is somewhat clouded by his status as a restricted free agent, and he could potentially test the unrestricted waters as early as next summer. But he sounded optimistic a contract extension could be reached in the near future that would allow him to stay in Ottawa for an extended period of time.
"Absolutely yeah, that is my hope for sure and I hope something happens in the next little bit," Murray said when asked about his contract status. "I definitely hope we can get something done so I can be here for years to come."
The gamble on Murray is a relatively low-risk when comparing the assets the Senators traded against Murray’s impressive resume. Last season, he recorded his 100th career regular-season win in just his 166th career game – making him the seventh-fastest goalie to reach that plateau since NHL expansion in 1967.
And goaltenders with two Stanley Cup rings rarely are available for a trade – much less in their mid-20s.
Consider Patrick Roy was 30 years old when he demanded his trade from Montreal. Tom Barrasso was two weeks away from his 35th birthday when Pittsburgh traded him to Ottawa. Other netminders with two Stanley Cup rings, such as Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford, have remained with their original teams into their mid-30s.
But Murray became expendable in Pittsburgh because his injury history – dealing with concussions and lower-body injuries – only allowed him to appear in 50 regular-season games once in his five seasons with the Penguins. He was also plagued by inconsistency in the past couple of seasons, watching his save percentage dip to .899 in 38 starts this past campaign.
Once Sullivan tabbed Tristan Jarry to be the Penguins starter over Murray in the win-or-go-home Game 5 against the Montreal Canadiens in the play-in round this past August, the clock was ticking on Murray’s departure from the Steel City.
A change of scenery might be beneficial for Murray, who has been through some emotional roller coasters over the past couple of years that go well beyond the highs of winning Stanley Cups and the lows of losing a No. 1 goalie job.
He acknowledged the death of his father, James, in 2018 was a difficult period in his life, but happily announced that he and his wife, Christina, are expecting a baby daughter in January.
"I’ve been through a lot for sure, but I’ve also learned so many valuable lessons and it’s going to really benefit me in the future," Murray said. "And I’m super excited that’s going to be in Ottawa."