Good goaltending goes a long way, especially this time of year. For the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, what they’ve received from their netminders is a big reason why they’re both four wins away from a Stanley Cup title.
The Penguins again needed to use more than one goaltender with Matt Murray replacing Marc-Andre Fleury, who started 15 games this postseason. On the other side, Pekka Rinne has been one piece of the solid rock that is the Predators’ defense. We’ve seen his ability over the years, but over these last three rounds his play has been pivotal in the team’s success.
So who’s got the edge in net?
The freshly-turned 23-year-old Murray is still considered a rookie by NHL standards and could spend his off-season as a two-time Cup champion. In the span of one year, he’s replaced Fleury twice during the postseason, and both times he’s led the Penguins to the Final.
This year, however, Murray got a late start on that job after an injury knocked him out early in Round 1, opening the door for Fleury’s final ride. But after getting the call to start Game 4 of the conference final, Murray has reminded us of why he’s the team’s present and future in net with a .941 even strength save percentage.
Having sat out the Penguins first 14 playoff games, Murray is healthy and fresh. Maybe Sullivan had an inkling that Fleury was getting a bit tired and now he can be thankful again that he can go to his other goalie and feel confident in his play.
It will be tough for the Predators to find holes in Murray, but they’re there. The book on every goalie is go to the glove, but one area opponents have feasted on with the Penguins netminder under his arms and over his pads, as In Goal Magazine noted. You won’t find him making many highlight-reel saves because he’s very sound positionally. Also, his ability to remain calm in big situations has been a valuable trait.
If we’re talking about Conn Smythe favorites, Rinne’s has to be either No. 1 or No. 2 on your list. His play this postseason has only added to an already strong Nashville defense and helped shut down the top stars on the other side.
Rinne enters the Stanley Cup Final with a .945 even strength save percentage, but he’s come back down earth a little bit round by round. He had a .991 ESSV in Round 1 during the sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks; a .930 vs. the St. Louis Blues; and then a .924 in the conference final against the Anaheim Ducks. Those numbers came against the 9th-, 12th-, and 17th-ranked offenses during the regular season. Now he’ll face the league’s top offense that is the only team to average over three goals a game in these playoffs (3.05).
The Big Finn makes it very difficult to score given the amount of space he’s able to cover in the net. But if he can’t see the puck, it’s tougher to stop. So you can imagine Rinne will find plenty of traffic (Hello, Patric Hornqvist) on his front door, which would allow the Penguins to cash in on deflections and screens.
Advantage: Even. Both goaltenders make this a match-up too close to call. While Rinne’s numbers have been coming down since Round 1, he still showed just how he can come up with key saves when needed. His performance in Game 6 against Anaheim was a good reminder of that. Murray may be young, but last year’s Cup run will help him in this situation. There won’t be many nerves this time around and with four starts to close out last round, he enters the Final fresh and healthy and on the top of his game once again.
– – – – – – –
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY: