And it was a decision the Penguins were never expected to have to make.
Murray, 22, was set to be the starter, but he sustained a lower-body injury in warm-ups before Game 1 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Columbus Blue Jackets and was sidelined for three weeks.
Fleury took over and has been one of the team’s most important players, if not the most important, through the postseason.
Fleury, 32, was instrumental as the Penguins defeated Columbus in five games and eliminated the Washington Capitals in seven.
But those performances have been all but forgotten in the wake of Fleury’s allowing four goals on nine shots in the first period of Game 3. While Fleury was certainly culpable for some of the scoring, the Penguins’ captain, Sidney Crosby, said his teammates deserved some of the responsibility.
“You don’t like putting your goalie in that situation like we did last night where we didn’t give him a lot of help,” said Crosby, who scored the Penguins’ only goal. “For many reasons, but especially that one, you just want to make sure you’re better as a group in front of him.”
Murray, who entered the game after just 12 minutes 52 seconds, allowed one goal on 20 shots and looked solid, especially given that he had not played since April 6.
The two goalies, who have always been supportive of each other, know the decision is out of their hands.
“I have no expectations; either way, I have to be ready,” Murray said. “That’s how I look at it. I’ll be ready to go either way, whatever Coach’s decision is. I’m not really hoping one way or the other. It’s out of my control, so I don’t think too much about it.”
Last year at this time, it was Murray making headlines.
When Fleury sustained a concussion late last March, Murray stepped in and was instrumental in leading the Penguins to a Stanley Cup title.
Fleury played in just two games during last year’s run, and many thought his days in Pittsburgh had ended. The Penguins started the season with both goaltenders, but when Murray broke a hand in September, Fleury was back on deck.
The two split the season, with Murray getting the bulk of the workload, but keeping Fleury has proved beneficial.
“I’ve said all along we have two great goalies,” Sullivan said. “These guys have both helped us win games. They’re terrific goalies, and we’re fortunate that we have these guys as part of our team. I’ve said this all year long, we think that’s one of the strengths of our group.”
Before Wednesday, Fleury had allowed just two goals through the first two games of this series, not to mention the shutout he posted in Game 7 against Washington. But Fleury, having been second-guessed before during his 13-year career, said he was not surprised by criticism.
“I think I’m used to it,” he said. “It’s been happening a long time. You just have to have broad shoulders and not pay too much attention to what people are saying.
“I’m really enjoying this playoff run. It’s not going to go 16 games in a row perfectly. I put that one behind me already and I’ll be ready to go.”
The Penguins are not offering a lot of offensive support, scoring just three goals through the opening three games.
Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin have been the only players to beat Craig Anderson, the Senators’ goalie, and they know that a much better effort will be needed to tie the series Friday night.
“You have to turn the page regardless of what happens, good or bad, that’s what the playoffs are about,” Crosby said. “We’ve got to take some things from that game, but the biggest thing is the start and we’ll make sure that we’re better.”