Matt Murray, Evgeni Malkin lead Penguins to win over Maple Leafs
TORONTO — When the first shot came, Matt Murray snagged it with his glove, raised it over his head like a prize he had won and let out a yell.
When the second shot came, Murray fell to his backside as he gloved it down, windmilling his left arm in a showy celebration.
The shots were taken by Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin.
It was during morning skate.
Imagine how fired up he was by game time, when Auston Matthews, John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs were shooting at him.
Making his first start in almost two weeks because of a concussion, Murray turned in a brilliant performance, stopping 38 shots in a 3-0 Pittsburgh Penguins victory Thursday night.
“I put it right in his glove on purpose. He got some confidence from that,” Hagelin joked, referencing Murray’s morning save before turning serious.
“He was good. That’s the type of performance we need from him,” Hagelin said. “When he’s like that, it makes our whole team play better, with more structure. We’re not too worried about shots from the outside or any shot that’s not a Grade-A scoring chance.”
Murray was impenetrable from the drop of the puck, making his most memorable stop on a Tavares backdoor chance late in the first. He held his ground as the potent Leafs offense piled up 29 shots over the final two periods.
Murray had been cleared by doctors to return to the lineup for almost a week. He backed up Casey DeSmith for the team’s past two games because of a coach’s decision. Mike Sullivan liked what he had been seeing out of DeSmith and wanted to give Murray more time to recover.
The waiting led to the feistiness that spilled out of Murray starting at morning skate.
“I was a little antsy, I guess,” Murray said. “I’ve been healthy for a while now and still haven’t played. Just a little bit antsy and anxious to get in there and play again.”
Whatever the reason, Sullivan liked what he saw.
“I know Matt’s a real competitive guy, and he wants the net,” Sullivan said. “And we want him to have it because he’s an important part of this team.”
Murray’s play notwithstanding, the Penguins dominated the first period, playing with more structure in the neutral zone and more desperation in the defensive zone than they’ve shown all season.
They got all the offense they’d need on a first-period power play. Evgeni Malkin took a pass on the goal line, acted like he was surveying the offensive zone to make a pass, then whipped a bad-angle shot between the pads of goalie Frederik Andersen.
“Coach tell me before the game, ‘You need to shoot more,’ ” Malkin said. “I’m trying to shoot. I know it’s hard for a goalie because he’s not maybe too ready for my shot. You see so many scored like this. It’s hard for a goalie.”
From there, the Penguins shut down the top offense in the league to improve to 3-1-2. Matthews and Tavares, who totaled 16 goals and 27 points through their team’s first seven games, combined for six shots and a minus-3.
On many shifts, they went head-to-head with Crosby and Malkin, who apparently aren’t ready to cede the title of the league’s best 1-2 center punch just yet.
“Regardless of who we were playing against tonight, we wanted to hold onto the puck a little bit more,” Crosby said. “It’s a lot more fun playing that way, and I think you can wear teams down playing that way, too. It plays to our strengths.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.