Commentary

Murray one of NHL's toughest D-men

Updated: May 21, 2011, 10:24 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- There's a simmering controversy in the San Jose Sharks' dressing room.

Douglas Murray and Niclas Wallin are battling over the usage of the same nickname: Thor.

"I know that Thor is really me because I picked up the hammer and Wally didn't," Murray laughed Saturday.

"Doug is very similar, but Thor in the movie is just a bit better looking," joked Sharks captain Joe Thornton.

We have a feeling Murray is going to beat Wallin on this one. If there's a Thor on this team, it's definitely Murray, whose physical play and warrior-like mentality make him one of the toughest defensemen in the NHL.

[+] EnlargeMurray
Don Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesSharks defenseman Douglas Murray is averaging 19:18 in ice time this postseason.

"He has no fear," Wallin said.

Vancouver Canucks star Daniel Sedin remembers first playing against Murray at a tournament in Sweden when they were kids.

"He was a man back then," Sedin said Saturday. "He was a man when he was 12 years old."

He also happens to be having one heck of a Western Conference finals through three games (Vancouver leads the series 2-1). The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Murray has laid the body, but has also played smart defensive hockey.

"People are getting to see the player that we've seen and known for several years," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told ESPN.com on Saturday. "He loves to play the game. He works so hard at it, and he's a leader, too."

Wallin remembers first meeting Murray when the two played together for Sweden at the 2008 World Championships.

"I had never really seen him play," said Wallin. "He took the long way to get here, but he's just a warrior. Shot-blocking, taking hits, I'm just impressed by him."

And there was Murray on Friday night, sacrificing his body as he helped the Sharks kill, not one, but two Canucks' 5-on-3 power plays. He ended up with five blocked shots on the night, the second-most in the game for either team.

"The shots that he blocks are just insane," said Dan Boyle, Murray's defensive partner on the Sharks' top blue-line tandem. "He probably more than anyone on the team has no problem stepping right in front of a slap shot head high and taking it off the chin if he has to. And he's back playing the next shift. I don't know what that guy is made out of, but he's pretty awesome."

There is more to the 31-year-old Murray than his physical play and shot-blocking. He's also a player that compensates for not being fleet of foot by making the right decisions on the ice and being in the right place at the right time.

"People see the physical nature to him and all that, but this is a guy that ran the power play at Cornell," said Wilson. "His hockey sense and knowledge of the game is outstanding. He's just a real good hockey player. It's between the ears. Very smart player."

In the West finals, Murray's task along with Boyle has to been to match up with the Sedins. On the surface, one would think the twins would just skate circles around Murray, but he is adept at finding ways to contain faster players.

"He does a lot of good things out there," said Sedin. "I don't want to say he's underrated, but he's good out there. ... You better bring your 'A' game to beat him."

Murray, who played for Sweden at last year's Olympics, said a big focus in his game is to be ultra-sound positionally. He has no choice.

"You can do a lot of your defensive work before you've got to defend," Murray told ESPN.com on Saturday. "I try to be physical. I can get guys to be a little hesitant sometimes."

Well, that last part is an understatement; he can flat-out destroy an unsuspecting player.

"I won't say who it is, but a guy earlier in these playoffs tried to hit Doug and that was the last time he did it in the whole series," Wallin said with a chuckle.

Making back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals has raised the profile of some Sharks players, including Murray. To a man in the Sharks' room, they believe it was a long time coming.

"He doesn't get as much credit as he probably deserves, but he plays physical, hard. He's a very honest player," said Thornton. "He's real hard to play against. For us that watch him every day, you appreciate him. It's nice to see him get some accolades."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.