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Matt Murray tasked with shaking worst playoff slump of young career | TribLIVE.com
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Matt Murray tasked with shaking worst playoff slump of young career

Chris Adamski
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Capitals' Lars Eller looks for a rebound as Penguins goaltender Matt Murray makes a save in the first period during Game 3 on Tuesday.

In large part to his own credit, Matt Murray mostly has avoided adversity in his young and thus-far successful NHL playoff career.

Now, Murray is tasked with shaking his worst postseason slump.

After allowing four goals on 22 shots during Tuesday's 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the teams' second-round playoff series, Murray's save percentage for the postseason has fallen to .905. That's the second worst of any goalie remaining in the tournament.

Tuesday, Murray and the Penguins were done in when Alex Ovechkin finished a 2-on-1 with Nicklas Backstrom with 67 seconds to play in regulation.

“I've just got to make the save there,” Murray said.

Murray has lost three decisions over a span of five playoff games for the first time in his career. Coupled with a 4-1 loss in Game 2 of this series — one was an empty-net goal — the two-time Stanley Cup winner has dropped consecutive postseason starts for only the second time.

Potentially more troubling, though, is it seemingly is part of a trend: Murray has allowed 14 goals in his past four games and 17 in his past five. Before this past week-plus, he never allowed any more than 12 goals over any four-game playoff stretch.

Murray had two shutouts over the first four games in the first round against Philadelphia, allowing just five goals in that time. But that is becoming more of a distant memory by the day. From Game 6 of the first-round series against Philadelphia through Tuesday, Murray has an .876 save percentage.

Tossing out the first four games against the Flyers, it's worse. After missing more than three weeks because of a concussion, Murray had an .898 save percentage over his final eight regular-season games.

Particularly against the Capitals, an abundance of goals are being scored on Murray's glove side. In Game 3, Chandler Stephenson and Matt Niskanen scored on that side, although Stephenson's shot was from close range and low so technically not necessarily beating Murray's glove side.

Niskanen's shot from the left point went under Murray's glove and off his left pad before skipping into the net.

“There was a bit of a fly-screen, and I was late picking it up,” Murray said. “I got a piece of it, and it just trickled in.”

Many fans and observers have labeled Murray's glove hand a weakness, a contention those in the advanced analytics community maintain isn't necessarily supported by the data. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it, either.

“Listen, I think when you look at the ways goaltenders play the position in today's game, there's a lot of butterfly style goaltenders,” Sullivan said. “(And) when goaltenders butterfly, there are certain areas of the net that get exposed, and usually under the crossbar is one of them. You know, our (shooters) try to do the same thing (on other goalies). I just think that's the style of most of the goaltenders in the league in today's game.”

Perhaps notably, that was the full extent of the answer to a two-part question posed to Sullivan after the game that also asked Sullivan's assessment of Murray's play in Game 2.

Murray's demeanor during his session with the media after the game was characteristically even-keeled. It typically is impossible to tell if the 23-year-old just won or lost a game.

Murray will rely on that part of his personality if he's going to return to top form.

“They're coming in waves, you know?” Murray said when asked if the Capitals are targeting his glove hand. “They're getting a lot off the rush.

“You just have to take it as it comes and go with the flow.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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