The Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a quick start with a goal less than three minutes into the first period by playoff star Jake Guentzel. That was all that Nashville would allow. The Predators fought back in the second to take the lead with two goals within 42 seconds of each other. The Predators took a two goal lead on James Neal‘s first of the finals and topped it off with two precise snipes from Craig Smith and Mattias Ekholm in the third to cut the series lead to 2-1.
Predators Win Stanley Cup Final Game 3
Active Defensemen Propel Preds
The Nashville Predators are known for their strong defensive core. The core is one of the best in the league and a big reason for Nashville’s playoff success. Those talented players were visibly seen tonight urging their team to victory. Defensively, Pittsburgh was pressured and pressed all game long. There was hard checking and swarming aggression to the puck by the likes of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm. Ryan Ellis had a great recovery and stick check on a high quality chance by Sidney Crosby. All six defensemen were seen giving up their body and blocking shots. The Predators did a great job limiting the number of quality chances the Penguins had.
Roman Josi: 1st defenceman with 3 points in a #StanleyCup Finals gm since Duncan Keith on June 4, 2010 (3 assists in Gm4- a 5-3 loss vs PHI)
What was most impressive by the Predators defense was their offensive contribution in this game. This core lead offensively by Subban and Roman Josi have already accounted for a large amount of the Nashville offense this post season and that trend only continued today. From the beginning of the game, the defense could be seen playing aggressively. They were pinching deep into the offensive zone and shooting at will. The scoring for them opened up on a power play blast from Josi. After solid puck movement, Josi blasted a shot that took ticked off of Carter Rowney and beat Matthew Murray. Forty two seconds later, Josi delivered a beautiful stretch pass that was lifted to Frederick Gaudreau who netted it. Josi was also responsible for an assist on the next goal.
Mattias Ekholm also got on the board in the third period after a clean entry and perfect feed. His wrist shot was an high, stick side finish. Nashville’s defense was the driving force in this must win game as they only allowed one goal and accounted for a large amount of the offensive production.
With Mattias Ekholm goal, #Preds become 3rd team ever w/4 different defencemen posting double digits in points during the same playoff year
Goalies Reverse Trends
Nashville’s goalie Pekka Rinne is the reason his team got to the Stanley Cup Final. Up until this series, he had been their MVP. However, through the first two games he had been anything but solid. He lost both and had a goals against average of 4.69 and save percentage of .788.
Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray had not been spectacular this series but has played more than solid and significantly better than Rinne. Since his insertion into the lineup for Pittsburgh he has only lost one game and re-energized his team.
Those trends changed tonight. After letting an early goal in and looking shaky throughout the first period, Pekka Rinne turned around his game and appeared to return to his prior form. No he is not all the way back, but Rinne began to look like his old self. He showed a lot of confidence and comfort as the game went on. That is in large part due to his defense playing well and team scoring goals. A confident group of skaters and energized crowd gave Rinne the confidence to make solid and difficult saves late in the game. Rinne was 27/27 after letting in the early goal.
Matt Murray who had given up four goals through the first two games on 80 shots, played significantly worse. While there were some bad bounces, Murray let in five goals. He was badly beaten glove side and will need to play a lot better if the Penguins want to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Monday.
This game was one that was chippy and physical and that is largely due to the energy provided in the building. The Nashville crowd was loud and passionate and urged their home team to keep fighting and win the game.
Even after going down early, the crowd did not relent and provided Rinne and the offense with confidence and energy to play well. The atmosphere in the building among the fans caused a change on the ice that was visible with Nashville’s hard and gutsy performance.
The Predators are home again on Monday night where they will look to their crowd again to provide them with the spark to even the series.