Matt Murray's Focus is on the Journey, Not the Destination

The Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender already has his name on the Stanley Cup — twice. Matt Murray may be a champion, but he’s still working diligently to improve his game.

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Back-to-back championships haven’t changed that — haven’t changed Murray.

Sullivan recognized him as the guy he’d always been at training camp and heading into the 2017-18 season. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey was impressed, upon spending two days with Murray this summer in Thunder Bay, with how unaffected Murray appeared to be by his unprecedented success.

There was no attitude on Murray’s part; no adulation from everyone else.

“Not at all,” Mackey insisted, “almost strikingly so.”

Mackey interviewed Murray in his element, a hillside park in his hometown overlooking Lake Superior — watched him play tennis, work out, eat lunch and otherwise go about a typical off-season day in Thunder Bay.

Mackey saw a guy who likes fashion and also $4 T-shirts purchased in bulk, a guy who is still close with one of his best friends from middle school, a dog lover and a guy who has studied Shakespeare — as well as the career of New Jersey Devils goaltending legend Martin Brodeur.

“I feel like I haven’t really done anything yet,” Murray told Mackey. “I feel like I’m just kind of getting started.” It’s a grasp of perspective that might make a grizzled veteran envious.

“It kind of goes against human nature in some regards,” Murray admits. “It’s difficult at times, especially if you feel like the bounces aren’t going your way or something like that. But at the end of the day, I feel like you’re in control. If you compete and you just worry about doing what you need to do to stop the puck, then the results will take care of themselves. If you let in a bad goal but you made a good play, then there’s no reason not to feel confident.

“It’s not about whether the puck went in or not. It’s about how you felt you played it and what you did. I’ll never let a result dictate how I felt about how I played. I could let in 10 goals and feel really good with my movements and my reads and I’d be happy with that. Consistency-wise, that’s the best way to look at it.

“It’s not about the results. You don’t think about how many goals you let up. It’s about what you’re doing.”

Murray tore a hamstring warming up for Game 1 of the 2017 postseason against Columbus. But when Sullivan looked down the bench three rounds later with the Penguins trailing, 4-0, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa, Murray responded with a nod. Then he matter-of-factly reclaimed his place in the crease.

“He visualized that becoming a possibility — so when it did become a reality, he was prepared for it,” Buckley says.

Murray closed out the 2017 Stanley Cup Final with back-to-back shutouts of Nashville. That made Murray the fourth goalie in NHL history to close out a Final with consecutive shutouts (and the first in 65 years, since Detroit’s Terry Sawchuk completed the task in 1952).

“A big part of it is I’ve been surrounded with really great people and people that have kind of taught me these mindsets and these mental techniques,” Murray says. “Part of it is, I don’t know, I’ve kind of always been that way. Everybody’s always said I was wise beyond my years, or whatever it may be, that I act older.

“I just realized if you let in a bad goal it really means nothing in the grand scheme of things. You think, what’s the worst thing that can happen out there? Maybe you get injured, that would be the worst thing. But you let in a bad goal? At the end of the day it’s going to make you better in the long run. You’re going to come back stronger from it.

“I think a lot of it is just knowing — what’s the big deal if something bad happens? And then you’re able to play freely and just kind of have fun and play with the flow of the game.
“And that’s when you’re at your best.”


What does a  23-year-old goalie with two Stanley Cups on his resume do next?

“You get ready to win another one,” Buckley says.

Whatever happens, it won’t be with Murray and Fleury sharing the crease. Murray, the younger and — in the Penguins’ estimation — better goaltender of the two (not to mention the less contractually expensive) is still here, while Fleury has departed for Las Vegas via the expansion draft.

“I can’t thank him enough,” Murray has said repeatedly, referencing the relationship the two shared.

Such changes are inevitable; in sports, as always, the show must go on, no matter how beloved the departing veteran may be.

Whatever lingering memories of Marc-Andre Fleury may exist in the minds of the fans would likely be erased should the Penguins approach the Stanley Cup once again. For Murray, a third championship would be achieved the way the first two were, by focusing on the journey rather than the destination.

He wants to play the game as well as he can. Winning again would be another byproduct of that.

It would also, presumably, include Murray taking another calculated step to craft and advance his game.

“There are always these little things that I see on a day-to-day basis,” Murray says. “After every game I watch the [scoring] chances against, puck handles. The older you get and the more you start to play, the more of these little things you can catch that make your job easier and give you an advantage mentally and physically. It’s just about staying on top of things.

“I’m always trying to add new things to my game and be unpredictable. You don’t want to be a robot out there. It’s just about thinking outside the box, doing things my way and trying to be a little unconventional at times.”

Murray entered this season planning to apply unpredictability against the NHL’s obsession with advanced scouting of opponents.

“As goalies, especially as young kids, you’re taught so much structure that every certain scenario, you’ll play it the exact same way every time,” he says. “And when that happens, especially at the NHL level, teams are going to pre-scout that. Teams are going to pick you apart, basically. They’re going to know exactly what you’re going to do and they’re going to know what they have to do to beat you.

“So I think at times it’s maybe about throwing a poke-check out there once in a while or being aggressive, sliding at a guy’s feet, something like that. Just switching things up and knowing when to be fundamental and when to get outside your comfort zone and do something a little bit crazy, throw a pad-stack in here or there, try to throw a saucer pass to the far blue line.

“I’m not afraid to get scored on. It’s about doing things differently once in a while, being unpredictable. That keeps other teams on their toes — and I think a lot of times forces them to overthink things. And then, all of a sudden, you’re in control.”

Although Murray and the Penguins are two-thirds of the way to a three-peat, a third championship captured before the end of his third NHL season remains almost inconceivable.
So Murray doesn’t ponder such a possibility. He’s focused on the next save, not the next parade.

“That’s a result, a final product,” he says. “You can’t win the Cup in September or October. That’s not something I think about, whatsoever, on a daily basis.

“I can’t even tell you who we’re playing against tomorrow just yet. That’s really how I focus on things. If you think about winning the Cup in October, you’re going to get ahead of yourself. And every little mistake you make is going to carry more weight than it should.

“We think about what we need to do, the process rather than the results, and let the results take care of themselves.”  

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