I don’t want to sound like a homer here, but as you can imagine, I’m rooting hard for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The thing is the team is full of kids that started the year at Wilkes-Barre Scranton and are led by a man that was coaching them when the season started. Halfway through the year when Mike Johnston was fired, Mike Sullivan was called up from the “Baby Pens” to lead the big club. He brought a new system and a new way of thinking to the floundering flightless birds. At the time I’m sure no one thought much of the move and I’m convinced no one penned the Penguins in as Eastern Conference Finalists.
What Sullivan has done has brought up guys like goalie Matt Murray, forwards Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary plus defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Steve Olesky. These are guys that Sullivan coached in Wilkes-Barre Scranton in his system, guys that bought into the system and believed in the system. Since then, Pittsburgh has rolled into the Eastern Conference Finals and sadly Wilkes-Barre Scranton has been eliminated from the American Hockey League playoffs. The big club has called up some of the young kids to get an idea of what it’s like to be involved in a playoff run in the National Hockey League. Sullivan has instilled so much confidence in the players that it can be seen with the team riding a 22 year old goalkeeper, Matt Murray, through the playoffs even though franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is healthy.
Murray however isn’t bothered by the hype or the intensity of a recent Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning down 3-2 in the series. With the Penguins holding a 3-0 lead going into the 3rd period of Game 6, Pittsburgh let off the gas and allowed Tampa Bay to fire 19 shots on Murray after allowing only 11 in the first 2 periods. Lightning forward Brian Boyle was able to connect on 2 of those 19 shots before Murray shut the door on Tampa Bay for good. Murray would finish with 28 saves and a .933 save percentage for the night, coming up huge when the team needed him.
Head Coach Mike Sullivan said that Murray has a “calming influence. He doesn’t get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete.”
“That’s usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think of of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment.”
Patrick Hornqvist said that Murray “plays like he’s 30.”
Chris Kunitz of the Penguins said that Murray “doesn’t look like a young kid who is feeling the pressure.”
Yes my friends, even if the Penguins don’t make it to the Stanley Cup Finals (I can’t believe I just wrote that), this is the Matt Murray coming-out party. The 2016 Penguins will be remembered for Mike Sullivan, Matt Murray and confidence. This team was lacking a few pieces that were in Wilkes-Barre Scranton and once they got those the “all-important” confidence followed. It’s amazing what happens when you have a confident team.
Confidence is a lesson that Mike Sullivan and Matt Murray have taught me that I will take with me to my ice time. I always thought that Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Jacques Plante were great just because they had talent. But it takes so much more than talent to make a great goalie, much less a great hockey player. It takes talent, hard work and confidence in yourself and your teammates to be a great hockey player. These Penguins have taught me that there’s nothing more important than confidence and teamwork – no one deserves the Cup more than them.
Confidence and teamwork. That’s why the Pittsburgh Penguins deserve to win the Stanley Cup.