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Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan announced Friday that Matt Murray would draw the start in goal over Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 4 of the team’s Eastern Conference Final clash with the Ottawa Senators, who own a 2-1 series lead after a 5-1 win in Game 3.
Craig Custance of ESPN.com passed along comments from Sullivan, who discussed the difficulty of possessing two potential No. 1 netminders ahead of Friday’s game at the Canadian Tire Centre.
“That’s been a hard decision for this coaching staff all year long,” he said. “It’s a good, difficult decision to have because we have two guys that are as capable as they are. Both these guys have helped this team win all year long.”
Murray replaced Fleury in the first period of Game 3 after the Senators scored four times on nine shots against the starter. The backup, who helped lead Pittsburgh to last season’s Stanley Cup, made 19 saves on 20 shots in relief.
The 22-year-old rising star posted a 2.08 goals against average and .923 save percentage across 21 appearances during last year’s postseason run. He missed the start of the 2017 playoffs because of a lower-body injury, however, thrusting Fleury back into the spotlight.
They split time during the regular season, but Murray held a clear edge in both GAA (2.41 to 3.02) and save percentage (.923 to .909).
“These guys are both competitors,” Sullivan said, per ESPN.com. “They both want to be in net; we don’t always expect them to agree with our decisions.”
While it’s hard to pin much of the blame on Fleury’s shoulders for the series deficit, the Penguins are clearly looking for a spark to avoid falling in a 3-1 hole. Murray brought some stability with the team playing much better after he entered Game 3.
That said, the biggest key for Pittsburgh is getting its offense back on track. The Pens have scored just one goal in each of the series’ first three games. If that trend continues, it won’t matter who’s in net, the Senators will be heading to the Stanley Cup Finals.