Matt Murray has been through two Game 7s in his NHL career, and the experiences were quite different.
For his first, in the Eastern Conference final last season, Murray stopped 16 of 17 shots as the Penguins beat the Lightning, 2-1, to advance to the Stanley Cup final.
His second was two weeks ago against Washington. Murray watched from the bench as Marc-Andre Fleury led the Penguins to a 2-0 victory.
Murray will be back in the net for his third career Game 7 Thursday night against Ottawa, as he and the Penguins once again face a do-or-die game with a trip to the Stanley Cup final on the line.
“You just do what you need to do,” Murray told reporters Wednesday morning in Ottawa. “You just try and worry about what you can control, and that’s how we prepare and how we play. I think, if we do that, the rest will take care of itself.”
Murray has certainly taken care of his end of the bargain since returning to the Penguins’ net in Game 4 of this series. In those three starts, he’s allowed four goals on 81 shots for a .951 save percentage.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has often praised Murray for his mental toughness, as well, and he expects nothing different in Game 7.
“I think he’s another guy that has shown an ability to perform in a high stakes environment,” Sullivan said. “He has the ability to move by things that don’t particularly go his way, and he doesn’t let it affect his future performance, and I think it’s critical this time of year.”
Even at Murray’s young age — Thursday also happens to be his 23rd birthday — he has plenty of experience to draw on for these big moments.
He backstopped the Penguins to all four of their elimination game victories in last year’s Stanley Cup run, including that Game 7 win against the Lightning.
“I’ll definitely use that, draw on that to prepare for this one,” Murray said. “Like I said, it’s just kind of everything comes down to one game and just take things one shift at a time, one save at a time, and focus on what you can control.”
If anything, this might actually be a bit easier for him than his last Game 7 experience, watching from the bench in Washington.
“I feel like when you’re watching, you just feel a little bit more helpless,” he said. “So maybe that’s why I was more nervous.”
When he’s on the ice, though, Murray is enjoying himself — even in moments as big as Thursday night’s game against the Senators.
“Of course it’s fun,” he said. “Hockey’s fun. I would say it’s added fun when the stakes are high just because everybody’s trying that much harder and it’s that much more intense. I think it’s fun to kind of get lost in those moments and to just do what you can do.”
For Murray, the most important part of preparing for and playing in these do-or-die games is whittling down the stakes to a more manageable and realistic scale. Try to ignore that there’s a trip to the Stanley Cup final on the line, and just try and stop each puck like he has done thousands of times in his life.
“It’s definitely a skill, something I work on quite a bit,” he said. “It’s just mental awareness more than anything. It’s not easy sometimes, obviously, but something I definitely work on and something that, I think, definitely helps in being successful.
“You just try and stay in the moment and really try to forget about everything else.”