PITTSBURGH — Matt Murray wanted to feel a sense of normalcy, so the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie went back to work Tuesday night for the first time since his father, James, died this month.
“I just tried to come in and forget about the fact I hadn’t played in a while and try to get lost in the game,” Murray said.
There were no outward signs of emotion. No tears. That’s simply not the understated Murray’s way. Looking as sharp as he has all season, the 23-year-old Murray stopped 40 shots in a 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks, including a handful of spectacular stops early that kept the Penguins in it long enough to rally for their eighth win in 10 games.
“Matt’s a mature kid,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s grounded. I think he has good perspective on where he’s at and the opportunity in front of him.”
Murray took a leave of absence following his father’s death on Jan. 16. He returned last week but stayed out of the lineup while rookie Casey DeSmith filled in capably as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions have slowly pulled themselves out of an early-season funk.
By Tuesday morning, Murray was ready to go and he responded by looking very much like the player who backstopped the Penguins to consecutive championships, including a six-game triumph over San Jose in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
“We try to support him and know it’s huge game for him and hope it gives him a little like push, little bit of confidence,” center Evgeni Malkin said.
Malkin did his part, picking up his 12th career hat trick over the final 20:04. The Russian star’s 24th goal of the season late in the second period tied it. His 25th early in the third gave Pittsburgh the lead for good and his 26th rolled into an empty net with just more than a minute remaining.
“Like last couple weeks, I feel like I’m so lucky, but it’s fine,” Malkin said. “It helps the team to win. I feel like my shots, it’s coming.”
Brent Burns and Logan Couture scored power-play goals for the Sharks but San Jose dropped its second straight game without Joe Thornton, who is out indefinitely with a right leg injury.
Martin Jones finished with 26 saves but also gave the puck away behind the San Jose net in the third period. Patric Hornqvist intercepted Jones’ sloppy clearing attempt and fed it in front to a streaking Malkin, who had little trouble putting it into an open net 6:01 into the third.
“You can’t beat yourself on the road, let alone going into the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions’ building, and that’s exactly what we did,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.
Bryan Rust, hindered by injuries this season, scored twice and nearly beat Malkin to a hat trick but his attempt at an empty-netter clanged off the crossbar. Moments later, Malkin didn’t miss.
“I won’t hear the end of that for a while,” Rust said with a laugh.
Rust’s first goal since Nov. 27 on a slick backhand that slid by Jones gave Pittsburgh the lead 11:09 into the first, but the Sharks used a pair of power-play goals in the second to surge ahead. Burns slipped a wrist shot from the point through traffic to tie it at the game’s midway point, and Couture pounded home a rebound 18:35 into the second for his 200th career goal.
San Jose’s momentum didn’t last.
With time winding down in the second, Burns tried a backhand clear behind the San Jose net that Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel chased down in the corner before feeding it to Malkin, who ripped it by Jones with just four seconds left to even things up and give the Penguins a serious boost.
“There are mistakes here and there,” Couture said. “Mistakes happen. They scored on a couple tonight. Next game, that probably won’t happen. Or next game, we’ll probably get those ones. So, I thought we played really well.”
NOTES: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby got an assist on Malkin’s empty-netter to extend his point streak to 10 games. … Malkin played in his 754th career game, passing Jean Provonost for fourth-most in franchise history. … The Sharks scratched forward Jannik Hansen, C Daniel O’Regan and D Tim Heed. The Penguins scratched D Chad Ruhwedel, D Matt Hunwick and forward Ryan Reaves. … Pittsburgh went 0 for 3 on the power play. The Sharks were 2 for 5 with the man advantage.
Sharks: Continue their five-game road trip Wednesday in Detroit.
Penguins: Host the Washington Capitals on Friday.
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