PITTSBURGH — Matt Murray spent the end of his rookie season helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup.
The goaltender is ready for an entirely different challenge for Team North America during the World Cup of Hockey. Murray stopped 16 of 17 shots he faced in a 3-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Wednesday in the final exhibition for both teams before the tournament starts in Toronto next week.
While North America coach Todd McLellan has yet to officially name who will start in next when his team faces Finland on Sunday, it appears to be a mere formality.
“I’m not prepared to anoint him yet … but I think you had very good eyes, you saw him play extremely well,” McLellan said. “That’s the same thing we saw. Odds are he’s our guy but we have to respect the process.”
The group of players 23-and-under will head into the event after losing for the first time in three exhibitions after Tomas Plekanec banked a backhander off Connor Hellebuyck’s pads with just over 8 minutes remaining. Murray was long gone by then in the same building where he’ll report for work in October as Pittsburgh looks to defend the Cup it won after streaking through the postseason and beating San Jose in six games in the final.
Heady territory for the 22-year-old Murray, who believes his run last spring will only help as the team of upstarts face a massive test against the world’s best players.
“That’s probably the highest pressure you can have in hockey,” Murray said. “Going through that at a young age is only going to help me feel more comfortable.”
North America overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie it midway through the third period on goals by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews against Petr Mrazek.
North America captain Connor McDavid was held without a point for the third straight game and took a big hit from Czech defenseman Roman Polak at the end of the second period. McDavid said he didn’t believe the hit was dirty and allowed his scoreless streak is the result of passing up too many opportunities to shoot the puck.
“It’s something I’ve got to figure out and keep working on,” he said.
Plekanec answered 53 seconds after Matthews’ goal by taking a feed from Ales Hemsky from behind the net and knocking it off Hellebuyck’s leg and over the goal line for his third goal in as many exhibition games.
Ondrej Palat and Radek Faska also scored for the Czech Republic. Mrazek stopped 17 of the 19 shots he faced after coming in for Michal Neuvirth at the game’s midway point.