Pens won't say who starts Game 4; Fleury pulled in Game 3 loss
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OTTAWA — Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray?
The Pittsburgh Penguins aren't saying which of their two goaltenders will start Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final. Head coach Mike Sullivan said a decision would be announced ahead of game-time on Friday morning.
"It's always a hard decision, but it's a good hard decision because we have two real good goalies," said Sullivan after a Thursday afternoon practice at the University of Ottawa. "So that's a decision that I never take lightly, that we take very seriously. We try to make the best decisions that we think give our team the best chance to win, and we go from there."
What gives Pittsburgh the "best chance" is open to interpretation and neither goalie would reveal much.
Fleury had been stellar in the playoffs before Game 3 on Wednesday night when he surrendered four goals on just nine shots before being replaced by Murray.
The 32-year-old, who lost his starting job to Murray last year because of injury, boasts a sterling .924 save percentage in 15 starts this spring. He shut out the Ottawa Senators in a 1-0 Game 2 win and also pitched a 29-save shutout in Game 7 of a second round series against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.
"It's not going to go 16 games in a row perfectly," said Fleury, smiling plenty during his media availability post-practice. "I put that one behind (me) already and I'll be ready to go."
Down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, Pittsburgh is at least leaving open the question of whether they'll turn back to Murray, their starter for the bulk of the regular season as well as last year's run to the Stanley Cup. The 22-year-old suffered a lower body ailment prior to the playoffs.
"Either way I have to be ready," said Murray, who only recently returned to back up Fleury.
The Thunder Bay, Ont., native hasn't started since Apr. 6 — a stretch of six weeks — when he surrendered four goals in a win over New Jersey. His only action in the playoffs was Wednesday's relief appearance of 47 minutes.
Murray said the most difficult aspect of a long layoff was puck-handling.
"You just try and play everything and just kind of get the feel back a little bit," he said after practice on Thursday. "But you don't want to feel your way into it at the same time. You want to just jump in there and just play like you haven't missed a beat. And that's what I tried to do, just play with no hesitation and no fear."
Murray had a .923 save percentage in the regular season and a .923 mark en route to the Cup last spring.
There were subtle signs that the Penguins might just stick with Fleury. Most notable of all was the veteran enjoying his own net at practice with Murray sharing his crease with third-stringer Tristan Jarry.
"They're terrific goalies, and we're fortunate that we have these guys as part of our team," Sullivan said.